Hot teams Nuggets, Raptors face each other in Toronto

TORONTO — A win streak will end Monday night when the Denver Nuggets visit the Toronto Raptors.

The Raptors (20-4) are working on a season-best eight-game win streak after defeating the Cavaliers 106-95 in Cleveland Saturday night.

The Nuggets (15-7) won their fifth in a row, 113-112 over the Trail Blazers in Portland on Friday in the opener of a five-game trip.

It is the first meeting between the teams this season. The Raptors have won three of the past four meeting between the teams and are 8-1 versus Western Conference opponents this season.

The Raptors, who had an easy earlier schedule, have had a tougher go of it recently and defeated the Memphis Grizzlies and the Golden State Warriors before playing the Cavaliers.

Eight of the Raptors’ next nine games (Dec. 3-19) will be against teams currently with a winning record. They are 8-3 against teams that are above .500 and it is the earliest in team history that they have reached 20 wins. They did it in 26 games in 2014-15.

The Nuggets win streak matches their season best. They have had some success when visiting the Raptors over the years, winning eight of their past 14 games in Toronto.

The Raptors did not play their All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry against the Cavaliers. He rested a sore back but there is no reason to think that he will not return for the game Monday. It was the first game he has missed this season.

“He runs the show out there so anytime he’s not on the floor you can probably tell,” said Fred VanVleet who started in Lowry’s place and had 15 points and four assists in 33 minutes. “I just try to do my best running the offense as best I can.”

Lowry leads the NBA in assists per game with 10.3 and has 10 or more assists in 13 games. He has topped the team outright in assists in 21 consecutive games that he has played. The franchise record is 22 by Damon Stoudamire in 22 Jan. 11 – Feb. 29, 1996.

Kawhi Leonard, who missed most of last season with the San Antonio Spurs because of a quadriceps injury, is showing that he has overcome any rust there might have been. He scored a game-high 34 points at Cleveland, his second consecutive 30-point game and sixth of the season. Leonard has scored 71 points and is shooting .556 (25-45) from the floor over the past two games after scoring a season-best 37 points Thursday against Golden State in an overtime victory.

Coach Nick Nurse said Leonard has added “pep in his step.”

Leonard said he did not learn that Lowry would not play Saturday until just before game time.

“I told him he should have let me know earlier because I would have slept 20 more minutes,” quipped Leonard, who also had nine rebounds and two assists in 36 minutes. “I needed that energy (Saturday).”

Gary Harris returned to the Nuggets lineup Friday after missing two games with a sore left ankle and scored 27 points, including going 4-for-10 in 3-point attempts.

Harris made a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left the game at Portland with the scored tied at 110.

The guard mentioned something said during a huddle with about three minutes to play by Paul Millsap, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds on Friday.

“He said if we’re going to be a playoff team it’s time to show everybody,” Harris said. “For him to open his mouth like that it shocked a lot of people. That was big, and it got us over the hump.”

“I loved hearing that from him because he’s not always the most vocal, but when he does talk people do listen,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are touting reserve center/forward Mason Plumlee as one of the most underrated players in the league. A starter with Portland, he has been limited to 17 minutes a game with Denver.

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re winning and we’re playing well,” said Plumlee, acquired in 2017 from Portland for Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round draft pick. “And also, not just that, not just the record now, but also the potential of this team and what we can do in the bigger picture.”

“People forget, Mason was a starter on a playoff team and here he is playing maybe 18 minutes a night but there’s never any complaining, there’s never any pouting,” Malone told the Denver Post. “Mason goes, ‘You know what, we have a chance to be a special team. I’m gonna do my part.’ I think it’s a great example for our young players, and it’s also kind of an embodiment of the culture we’re trying to create.”

The game Monday will be a homecoming for Nuggets guard Jamal Murray, who is from nearby Kitchener, Ont.