The Toronto Raptors are a nomadic team, decamping at a temporary home in Tampa during the pandemic and yet they have found a way to stay competitive during a trying season.
Toronto (26-36) has won five of its last seven and put up a fight against Brooklyn despite being short-handed. The Raptors will be tested with a tough four-game road trip west, starting Thursday night in Denver.
After Thursday night’s game, Toronto will play at Utah followed by two games in Los Angeles against the Lakers and Clippers. But the 2019 NBA champs aren’t intimidated by the schedule. They are emboldened by their recent play.
“We’ve been playing pretty high-level basketball for the last few weeks. It hasn’t always resulted in wins, but even like tonight, if we have this type of performance in Scotiabank Arena, we are walking out of there with a win,” Fred VanVleet said after a 116-103 loss to Brooklyn on Monday night. “We have to keep that in mind as well. This year, we need to be about 10-12 points better than we are most nights on the road and at home because our home games are road games.”
The Raptors have been without guard Gary Trent Jr. since Saturday with a lower leg injury and he won’t play Thursday. Neither will Paul Watson, who didn’t make the road trip due to a knee injury, but Jalen Harris (hip) is probable. He hasn’t played since March 14.
Toronto will face a Nuggets team playing on consecutive nights. Denver (41-21) beat New Orleans 114-112 at home on Wednesday night.
The Nuggets have kept winning despite the injuries piling up. They won’t have guards Monte Morris or Will Barton III, who are both out with hamstring injuries, and they’ve lost Jamal Murray for the season. Even with those setbacks, Denver is 23-6 since the end of February and is in a battle for one of the top seeds in the playoffs.
Denver had another scare in the fourth quarter when Michael Porter Jr. rolled his left ankle on a drive to the bucket. He walked behind the bench during a timeout and stayed in the game.
A big reason the Nuggets have kept winning is the play of their backup guards — P.J. Dozier and Facu Campazzo, who has earned the praise of his teammates and coach with his energetic play on both ends of the court.
Campazzo was one of the heroes in the win over the Pelicans. He had 13 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, a career high in points, and he had 10 assists for his first double-double of his rookie season.
“We’re a good team. Injuries are a part of the NBA,” coach Michael Malone said before Wednesday’s game. “We talked, as a team, that our goals still remain the same. It’ll be a little harder without Jamal Murray with all that he brings to the table. If you thought we were going to just stop playing and quit because one player went down, well then you haven’t been watching us for six years.”
–Field Level Media