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Well, at least the Toronto Raptors (4-14) put up a fight.
In their 113-110 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Monday night, the Raptors covered up for many of their inadequacies over the course of much of the game (team defence, turnovers, a bench disadvantage and an ineffective Jonas Valanciunas) with a 22-10 run over the final 5:52 of the game. There might be some life left in the team, after all.
Can’t recall the last game in which both DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani each enjoyed standout offensive performances. But against Denver, they both made the most of some open looks against a surprisingly lax Nuggets’ defence. Bargnani finished the game with 23 points, while DeRozan closed with 18 points (Kyle Lowry led all scorers with 24). The most significant stat, however, came in their shooting accuracy, with the Italian big man finishing 10-20 and the USC alum making eight of 13 shots to help the team finish 42-86 (49%) from the floor. It would have been nice if either man could have come through on their three-point attempts in the final minute, but both men can find some comfort in a pair of comprehensively solid efforts.
The Last 3:12
Here are a few words that you haven’t heard about the Raptors anytime recently: the club deserves credit for playing just about as well as they could have when it mattered most. There it was – active defence, a commitment to stepping into the passing lanes and some dynamic ball movement. There was Terrence Ross hitting a big three, Lowry looking like the player he was before the injury, Ed Davis getting active on both ends of the floor and Amir Johnson coming up big on a trey of his own.
It may seem overly critical to zone in on the play of the Raptors’ point guards on Monday when Lowry’s feistiness (and 11-11 free-throw shooting) helped keep Toronto alive in the dying minutes and Jose Calderon’s heads-up passing led directly to Amir Johnson’s unlikely late three. Before those final minutes, however, the Toronto point was a position of detriment to the team’s collective effort. The trio of Lowry, Calderon and John Lucas III were responsible for seven of the team’s ever-costly 16 turnovers, not to mention 8-23 shooting. The turnover issues fed directly into a major Raptors’ weakness – transition defence – and a considerable Nuggets’ strength – up-tempo play, as evidenced by their 19-2 edge in fast break points.
The Bench Battle
It’s no surprise that Denver was the deeper of the two clubs (they are among the deepest in the league), but their 52-35 edge in bench points still reigned as a major difference-maker on the night. Corey Brewer (19 points) and Javale McGee (17 points), in particular, stood out as key contributors outside the Nuggets’ starting five.
Could things be looking up for the Raptors? It isn’t easy to get excited about a 4-14 team, but they have strung together two consecutive strong efforts and now visit a weak Kings squad (10:00pm, SN1) on the second half of a back-to-back, where they actually seem fairly strong.
Prediction: Raptors 114, Kings 109 (14-4 this season)