Preview: Denver Nuggets wrap up seeding games against Raptors

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

After a four-month hiatus, the 2019-20 regular season is set to wrap up Friday with the final set of seeding games. For the Denver Nuggets, this means a matchup with the defending champion Toronto Raptors before both teams turn their attention to the upcoming playoffs.

Denver (46-26) has lost two consecutive games to the Los Angeles teams, games in which head coach Michael Malone didn’t play his starters down the stretch. With the focus remaining on the playoffs, Malone has insisted that he will not overplay his best players in the seeding games.

Toronto (52-19) has won three-straight in the bubble and has secured the second seed in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have won on the back of their elite defense, which ranks second in the league over the course of the season and first in the bubble.

Denver won the first meeting between the two teams back in March.

Here are three storylines to watch for in Friday’s matchup.

Take care of the ball

As mentioned above, Toronto is an elite defensive team. The Raptors are the top-ranked defense in the bubble by a wide margin and thrive in creating turnovers. Toronto ranks second in the league this season in opponent turnover percentage at 16.7 percent.

Furthermore, when the Raptors create a turnover, they usually don’t fail to capitalize on it. Toronto thrives in transition, especially after turnovers. The Raptors rank sixth in points added per 100 possessions in transition off of a steal, so if the Nuggets cough it up, they could be in trouble getting back on the other end of the floor.

Denver has valued each possession over the course of the season, ranking 10th in turnover percentage at just under 14 percent. If the Nuggets can maximize each possession and thus limit Toronto’s transition opportunities, it will go a long way in ending the regular season with a victory.

Attack the offensive glass

Although Toronto’s defense is elite, there is an area that Denver can exploit in Friday’s matchup. The Raptors are just 21st in defensive rebounding this season, as they’ve allowed opponents to grab an offensive rebound on 26.4 percent of their missed shots.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets thrive on the offensive glass, which has been a key component of the team’s sixth-ranked offense. Denver is third in offensive rebound percentage at 28 percent, which has continued to be a major strength in the bubble with Michael Porter Jr. playing more minutes. With Porter Jr. on the floor, Denver’s offensive rebound percentage jumps up to 30.1 percent, which would be first in the league if translated over the course of the season.

It remains to be seen just how many minutes the key players for each team will receive on Friday, but when Denver’s starters are out there, keep an eye on their effectiveness on the offensive glass.

Focus on playoffs

Speaking of playing time, there will likely be plenty of opportunities available for bench players on both teams in Friday’s contest. With both the Nuggets and Raptors securing their playoff seeds and first-round opponents, there is no incentive to overplaying key rotation players in the last seeding game.

For the Nuggets, Friday’s game presents a valuable opportunity to get players such as Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokic and Jerami Grant some rest ahead of what could be a physical, grueling playoff series against the Utah Jazz.

At the same time, Friday’s contest can provide Bol Bol, P.J. Dozier and some of Denver’s deeper reserves some quality learning experience and playing time before Malone opts to shorten the rotation for the playoffs.

Friday’s game will tip at 11:30 a.m. MT and will air on Altitude 2 (Radio: KKSE 950AM).

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