Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard.
Betting odds: Denver Nuggets at Toronto Raptors
- Spread: Raptors -6.5
- Over/Under: 218.5
- Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
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Tonight matches up the two best teams in the league according to current standings. The 15-7 Denver Nuggets, atop the Western Conference, will take on the 20-4 Toronto Raptors, atop the East. What do historical betting trends say about tonight’s game? Our experts take a look.
Moore: Who Do the Matchup Favor?
These are two powerhouses.
The Raptors are No. 2 in the East in SRS (Basketball-Reference’s evaluation of point differential vs. strength of schedule), and Denver is No. 1 in the West.
The Raptors are top five in our power ratings; the Nuggets are 11th.
These may be the two best benches in the NBA with the exception of the Clippers, and by record it’s No. 1 in the East vs. No. 1 in the West, at least for a night.
What’s stunning is how many weapons each team has.
It’s not just Nikola Jokic for Denver, it’s Gary Harris, too. Paul Millsap had a slow first two weeks and has been on an absolute tear since.
The Nuggets’ bench is phenomenal; Mason Plumlee leads all centers playing at least 20 minutes in Defensive Rating. On the other side, the Raptors can throw any number of combinations out.
One of the keys in this one will be how much the Raptors go to small-ball. Denver can absolutely crush on the offensive glass, but Jokic and Plumlee will struggle to guard Serge Ibaka in small-ball lineups with how he can pop to the outside. Shooting bigs give Jokic fits.
Meanwhile, Denver has absolutely no counter for Kawhi Leonard. Expect a healthy diet of Torrey Craig and Juancho Hernangomez, but those mean that Millsap, who’s great defensively but no longer as fast and struggles with super-athletic guys, may have issues with Pascal Siakam.
Then there’s point guard. Jamal Murray will get first crack at Kyle Lowry, but Harris will wind up seeing him a lot. Most of what can hurt Toronto is if Denver’s offense shows up. The Nuggets have turned it on in November and are now top 10 in both offense and defense despite shooting slumps.
Maybe the biggest key is going to be turnovers. If Leonard and the Raptors’ length force live-ball turnovers — Denver’s Achilles’ heel — the Nuggets are doomed on the road.
When the Nuggets have fewer turnovers? They’re 10-1. The Raptors are middle of the pack in steals but sixth in points off turnovers per 100 possessions.
I lean Toronto here, but get ready for what could be an incredible game. — Matt Moore
Mears: Is the Nuggets Defense Real?
Powerhouses is right. These teams rank second and third in point differential, which is more predictive than overall record, and they both own top-10 offenses and defenses.
The biggest question I have moving forward for these clearly talented squads is with Denver. Specifically the defense.
This year, the Nuggets’ scheme has allowed the second-most shots at the rim and the 10th-most 3-pointers. They’ve allowed the most corner 3-pointers in the league, giving them up on 9.6% of possessions.
As a result, Denver has allowed the fewest long 2-pointers, which is typically what you want to force opponents to take.
Despite the poor defensive profile, the Nuggets rank seventh in effective field goal percentage allowed. Opponents have hit just 31.6% of their 3-pointers against them — second-best in the league.
It gets more concerning: The Nuggets have allowed the ninth-most open (classified by NBA stats as a defender 4-6 feet away) 3-pointers in the league. Yet, opponents are shooting just 27.1% on those — easily the lowest mark in the NBA.
Of course, those aren’t perfect data points. Some teams leave poor shooters open as a strategy — think the Warriors’ treatment of Tony Allen over the years — and thus the expected field goal percentage should be lower.
But all of these marks are too extreme to be just that. I think the Nuggets likely have had some good fortune with opponent shooting, and that could regress against the Raptors, who rank fourth in frequency of shots from the valuable corner-3 spot. — Bryan Mears
Betting Trends to Know
Toronto has the best record in the NBA, winning 20 of their first 24 games (.833 win percentage). Teams with elite records are usually overvalued by the public.
Since 2005, teams that have won more than 80% of their games have gone 703-754-24 (48%) against the spread in their next game, per our Bet Labs data.
One situation where these teams are actually undervalued is when an elite team has a losing ATS record. Despite losing just four games straight-up this season, the Raptors are 11-12-1 ATS.
Since 2005, teams that have won more than 80% of their games but have a losing ATS record have gone 100-83-3 (55%) ATS. — John Ewing
Did you know? The Nuggets enter this road game against the best team in the NBA as the hottest team in the league, winning and covering their last five games.
Denver is the third team this season to win and cover at least five consecutive games after not making the playoffs last year (Grizzlies and Kings).
The last season we had at least three teams win and cover at least five consecutive games in December or earlier after not making the playoffs the previous year was back in 2007, when New Orleans, Atlanta, Portland and Boston all accomplished the feat. Three of the four went on to make the playoffs that season. — Evan Abrams
The Nuggets and Raptors face each other twice a season. Since 2012, they have played 14 total games, and the over is 8-2-2 (80%), going over the total by 7.6 PPG.
Mike Malone has coached the Nuggets in six of those eight games; the over is 3-1-2 in those, going over the total by 9 PPG. — Evan Abrams
Editor’s note: The opinions on this game are from the individual writers and are based on their research, analysis and perspective. They are independent of, and may not always match with, the algorithm-driven Best Bets from Sports Insights.