Raptors open road swing against Nuggets
The Denver Nuggets experimented with two 7-footers in the starting lineup but it didn't work out. They stumbled to a 3-5 record with Jusuf Nurkic and Nikola Jokic manning the post together, so coach Michael Malone inserted Kenneth Faried at power forward.
It took a couple of games but the Nuggets finally got a win with Faried starting and Jokic coming off the bench. Turns out, Faried thought he should have been starting all along.
"When I came out of that starting spot, it kind of gave me a wakeup call," Faried said after Denver's 120-104 win over Phoenix on Wednesday. "Like, 'Hey, you need to get back to who you are.'"
Faried had 20 points and 15 rebounds, both season highs, in the win, and he and the Nuggets want to ride that momentum against the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.
The Nuggets (4-7) also want to get even with the Raptors, who won the first meeting between the teams, 105-102, in Toronto on Oct. 31.
The Raptors (7-4) are going to be hungry for a win after losing back-to-back games to the two NBA Finals teams from last season. Toronto lost by four at Cleveland on Tuesday and then fell to Golden State at home on Wednesday.
"These two games are a good test for us, they let us know how quickly mental mistakes will cost you and breakdowns will cost you and then in the second half when we got focused in, locked in, we started switching some things properly, talking, communicating we kind of got back in the game," Toronto coach Dwane Casey told the Toronto Sun. "But you can't have lulls like that against great teams."
Star guard DeMar DeRozan hasn't had any lulls this season. He has scored 30 or more points in nine games this season, including 34 against the Warriors on a night he was 17-for-17 from the line.
One of those 30-point games came against Denver. He had 33, and his backcourt mate, Kyle Lowry, had 29.
Stopping those two will be a tall task for the Nuggets. Their best perimeter defender, Gary Harris, is out with a foot injury and Will Barton hasn't played since spraining his ankle against Toronto, leaving Denver thin at guard.
Malone started backup point guard Jameer Nelson against the Suns and went with a three-guard rotation with rookie Jamal Murray. It worked well enough against the Suns, but it will be a different story against the Raptors.
Friday's game is the beginning of four road games in six nights for Toronto. The Raptors also play Sacramento, the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston.
The Pacific Division-leading Clippers will provide a tough challenge, but Denver thinks it has found something with Faried back in the lineup, so the Nuggets will be tough to beat, especially after getting their first home win in four games.
"Very happy to get the monkey off our back, get the first home win," Malone said. "Now we have to turn around and get ready for Toronto."