Raptors and Nuggets clash in final playoff prep

NBA

The Toronto Raptors and the Denver Nuggets know their first-round playoff opponents, so there will be little at stake when they play their final game of the restart Friday afternoon near Orlando.

After losing 124-111 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, the Nuggets (46-26) will be the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference and will play the sixth-seeded Utah Jazz next week.

The Raptors (52-19) already had clinched the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference before their 125-121 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday and will play the No. 7 seed Brooklyn Nets in the first round.

The Nuggets have won three in a row over the Raptors, most recently 133-118 at Denver on March 1.

In the bubble since the restart, Toronto is 6-1 and Denver is 3-4.

Both teams can be expected to protect their regulars on Friday.

The Nuggets, who have been hampered by injuries since the reset, rested their starters for most of the fourth quarter Wednesday even though they still had a chance for the No. 2 seed. Denver took a 92-90 lead into the fourth quarter.

Nikola Jokic played 28 minutes against the Clippers and had 17 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds. Rookie Michael Porter Jr. added 11 points and five rebounds while Jamal Murray, playing in his third game since missing four games with hamstring tightness, had 10 points and six assists.

Jerami Grant boosted the second unit, scoring 25 points Wednesday after missing the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday with a sore knee.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone is disappointed by his team’s lack of defense.

“Right now, we have the worst defense in the bubble, by a mile,” Malone said. “We need guys that can guard. Too many guys right now are just matadors. We just get beat way too easy at the point of the ball.”

Porter is making a strong case for a starting role in the playoffs, especially if starters Gary Harris (knee) and Will Barton (hip) remain sidelined with injuries.

“If you want to win big, especially in the playoffs, you need three scorers,” Malone said. “You can’t rely on just two people. We did that a lot last year and that put a tremendous amount of pressure and demand on Nikola, especially. We welcome Michael’s offensive output, and he’s starting to figure things out in our read-and-react offense.”

Raptors coach Nick Nurse sat in the seats while one of his assistants, Adrian Griffin, ran the team against the 76ers.

Griffin used every player available as the Raptors overcame a 16-point deficit. OG Anunoby (knee) and Serge Ibaka (knee) were out.

“I have to thank coach Nurse,” Griffin said. “He didn’t have to do this. Honestly for one night I felt like Cinderella. I had the glass slippers on and it was great. Tomorrow it’s back to reality but it was an awesome feeling.”

Kyle Lowry had 19 points. Chris Boucher also had 19 points with nine rebounds as he continues to make the most of his opportunity. He had a career-best 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds Monday in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks.

“Every time you get a chance to play 20-25 minutes, everyone on this team is going to take it,” Boucher said. “Just get ready, and the opportunity is there to play hard and show what you’re capable of doing.”

–Field Level Media

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