Preview: Denver Nuggets conclude back-to-back vs. Raptors
Although they had to sweat it out in the final seconds, the Denver Nuggets extended their winning streak to three games Wednesday with a 114-112 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.
Nikola Jokić led the way with 32 points and eight assists, while Michael Porter Jr. (28 points) and Facundo Campazzo (NBA career-high 19 points, 10 assists) also chipped into the offensive efforts.
Denver (41-21) must now quickly turn its attention to the Toronto Raptors, who await them on the second night of this back-to-back.
Toronto (26-36) has struggled all season because of injuries and other absences, all while playing home games in Tampa Bay. However, the Raptors are 5-2 over the past two weeks and their record is slightly misleading, as they have the net rating of a team that one would expect to have 31 wins at this point of the season.
Toronto easily won the first meeting between these two teams back on March 24.
Projected starters: Facundo Campazzo, PJ Dozier, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić
TUNE-IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM
Key matchup: Michael Porter Jr. vs. OG Anunoby
OG Anunoby has been one of the bright spots for the Raptors this season, enjoying a breakout season in his fourth year in the league.
With career highs across the board (15.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.6 steals, and 39.8 percent 3-point shooting), the 23-year-old wing has continued to grow and develop his offensive game while providing high-quality defense across multiple positions.
Anunoby is currently on a stretch in which he has scored 20+ points in five consecutive games and is averaging 20.7 points per game on 55.1 percent shooting from the field (43.8 percent from beyond the arc) over his last seven contests.
Meanwhile, Porter Jr. has continued to ascend as Denver’s number two option on offense following the season-ending injury suffered by Jamal Murray. Coming into Wednesday’s matchup against New Orleans, Porter Jr. averaged 24.8 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in his last 10 contests, all on 55 percent shooting from the field and 42.2. percent from downtown.
Thursday’s contest provides an intriguing matchup between two of the most exciting young forwards in the game.
The Raptors haven’t been the same defensive juggernaut this season as a result of changes at the center position (Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka departed in free agency) and the previously mentioned struggles with injuries and COVID protocols.
Toronto is tied for the league average defensive rating this season at 112.6, and a good portion of their success on that end of the floor can be attributed to forcing turnovers. The Raptors rank 29th in opponent offensive rebound percentage and 30th in opponent free-throw rate, placing a higher emphasis on their ability to generate mistakes from their opponents.
The Raptors lead the league in this area, as they’ve forced turnovers on 16.3 percent of opponent possessions, which leads the league by a comfortable margin. For reference, the league average rate is 14 percent.
Although Denver thrived in this area offensively during the early stages of the season, the Nuggets have struggled as of late to value each possession, which has dropped them to 13th in turnover percentage on the season. In the first meeting between the two teams, Denver committed 12 turnovers, which the Raptors turned into 15 points. If the Nuggets can repeat that performance in this area it will go a long way in helping them secure a win.
Defend the 3-point line
Switching to the other side of the ball for the Nuggets, it’s clear that selling out to defend the 3-point line will be key in Wednesday’s contest against the Raptors.
Toronto ranks third in the frequency of 3-point attempts this season and have converted at a healthy 37.5 percent clip on the year, which is tied for 12th.
Although teams haven’t converted at a high rate from downtown against Denver this season (36.6 percent, slightly below the league average 3-point percentage), the Nuggets can be vulnerable from beyond the arc in terms of the volume of attempts.
Opponents have taken 38.2 percent of their shots from 3-point range, which places Denver 23rd in the league. In the first meeting back on March 24, Toronto shot a staggering 24-of-48 from downtown, which played a key role in securing the 135-111 victory over Denver.
If the Nuggets give up a lot of attempts to this Toronto squad on Thursday, it’s likely that the Raptors will make them pay, just like they did last month.
Statistics as of April 27.