Back home after a four-game road trip in which they finished 2-2, the Nuggets begin their longest homestand of the season – six games over the next 10 days – on Wednesday night against one of the best Eastern Conference teams, the Toronto Raptors.
They are annually a team that makes a deep run into the playoffs, and the Raptors have achieved it by getting big performances out of their All-Star guards, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And this season those two remain a focal point, but more passing and improved defense have helped get them out to a 4-2 start.
“They are top five in steals, they are second in deflections per game,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They are, I think, top six in the league in blocked shots. So their activity, their length – I think they are a great defensive team.”
How do the Nuggets crack the code and get a victory? Start by containing Lowry and DeRozan and then continue with these areas..
Keep eyes on the roll guy. Toronto bigs led an all-out assault on Portland’s interior defense on Monday night, constantly rolling to the rim and finishing almost everything. Lucas Nogueira, Jakob Poeltl and rookie OG Anunoby combined to shoot 7-of-8 in rolling to the rim in the Raptors’ win over the Blazers. Nogueira, who caught three alley-oop passes among his roll-to-the-rim field goals, also popped out and hit a 3-pointer. It all means Nuggets bigs have to give multiple efforts on each of these screen/roll plays because so many of them involve high-scoring guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan as well. Keeping the guards out of the lane and then jumping back to their man, who will most certainly be rolling to the rim is a challenge Nuggets bigs have in front of them all night long.
Guard battle. It is no secret that Toronto boasts one of the NBA’s most potent backcourt duos in point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting guard DeMar DeRozan. They combine to average 37.2 points per game, and that’s even with Lowry getting off to a slow start shooting the ball. The Nuggets are getting stellar defense from their starting backcourt of Jamal Murray and Gary Harris to start the season, and they’ll need more from them to slow Toronto’s offense at the point of attack.
Get to 100. Scoring at least 100 points has long been a benchmark of success for the Nuggets — they just win many more games when reaching the century mark. On the flipside, Toronto has had great success when holding teams under 100 points early this season. The Raptors have held three of their six opponents under 100, and they’ve won all three games when doing so, including on Monday night when they limited Portland to just 85 points in a 14-point victory. The Raptors have led with defense this season and it’s been flat-out stifling at times. Toronto is fifth in the NBA, allowing just 98.2 points per game. The Nuggets have had back-to-back games over 100 points as their offense continues to find more chemistry. They’ll be challenged to be effective in half court offense to be able to continue that streak.
INJURY REPORT: Juancho Hernangomez (mononucleosis) is out of Wednesday night’s game. All other Nuggets are available. Malone said Hernangomez remains a “couple of weeks” away from returning.
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.