Nuggets-Raptors Preview

The Associated Press

The Denver Nuggets were battling for the top spot in the Western Conference when they last faced the Toronto Raptors.

The Nuggets are now fighting just to stay in the playoff race.

Denver goes for a 10th consecutive victory over the Raptors on Wednesday night and fifth consecutive season series sweep.

After a 96-81 victory over Toronto (16-34) on Jan. 27, the Nuggets had the second-best record in the West at 14-5. They've since struggled to a 27-23 overall record but did improve to 1-2 on their current seven-game road trip with a 108-91 victory over league-best Chicago on Monday.

"It's a great win for us," Karl told the league's official website after his team improved to 13-1 against the East. "It can make this road trip a special trip for us."

It could be if the Nuggets decide to defend. Among the league's worst by allowing 102.3 points per game - 116.3 in its previous four games - Denver built a 13-point edge by limiting the Bulls to a 16 third-quarter points.

"I think individually we all take pride in guarding our man, but we just had to become a better defensive team, helping each other and communicating," said Ty Lawson, who matched a season high with 27 points.

The Raptors have plenty of room for improvement on the defensive end after giving up a season high in points in Monday's 117-101 loss to Orlando.

The Magic hit 15 3-pointers - tied for the most against Toronto in 2011-12.

"I'm disappointed in our focus and attention to detail,'' said coach Dwane Casey, whose team has lost five of six. "We came out flat as a pancake against one of the top teams in the league.''

If the Raptors are going to bounce back, they may have to do so without DeMar DeRozan and Jerryd Bayless. DeRozan has missed the last two games with a left ankle injury, while Bayless - who scored 18 points in the Jan. 27 loss - left in the second quarter on Monday with a sore left hip. He missed the previous two contests with a left hip pointer.

Toronto could use another big effort from former Nugget Gary Forbes, who scored a career-high 21 points Monday and has averaged 17.3 points his last three games - well above his season mark of 5.6 points.

The Raptors also signed Ben Uzoh to a 10-day contract on Tuesday to add some depth to the backcourt.

Raptors center Andrea Bargnani will get his first look at the Nuggets this season after missing the loss in Denver with a left calf strain. The Italian center will try to help Toronto end a four-game home skid in this series after scoring 24 points in Denver's last visit, a 123-116 loss on Dec. 10, 2010.

Former Nugget Linas Kleiza led Toronto with 26 and 12 boards in that game - his first versus Denver. He could be matched up against Nuggets forward Al Harrington on Wednesday.

The two got into a shoving match in the final minute in Denver with the Nuggets well on their way to a 14th win in 15 games in this series.

The Raptors' last victory over the Nuggets was 121-94 at Air Canada Centre on March 23, 2007.

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