With their core back, the Toronto Raptors have won four straight games, but they will be tested Friday night by the Utah Jazz, who will aim for their 11th consecutive road victory.
With Pascal Siakam scoring 33 points, the visiting Raptors defeated the depleted Milwaukee Bucks 117-111 on Wednesday despite allowing 77 first-half points. Toronto held Milwaukee to 11 points in the third quarter.
“It was about as two different results defensively in a game that you can have,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We just weren’t running back hard enough to get set, weren’t quite getting out to shooters, we were kind of there but not quite the way the game plan was set up. And then it all changed. We got into them, we started getting some deflections, started swarming and flying, we started standing in more on their drives, rebounding well.”
The Jazz defeated the host Denver Nuggets 115-109 on Wednesday with Bojan Bogdanovic scoring a season-best 36 points despite going 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
“We controlled the boards,” said Bogdanovic, who added 13 rebounds. “We controlled the turnovers. We were taking care of the ball, and a lot of the 50-50 balls on the floor, they were all ours, so I think that was big.”
The Jazz have won their past three games against the Raptors, including 119-103 on Nov. 18 at Salt Lake City.
However, the Jazz will be hard-pressed to make it four straight. The team ruled out five players for the game, including Bogdanovic (finger sprain) and All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell with a back strain. Further, the Jazz placed center Rudy Gobert in the league’s health and safety protocol, joining Joe Ingles. Mike Conley is also out with right knee injury recovery.
The Raptors, who had as many as 10 players in the NBA’s health and safety protocol on Dec. 26, are one game over .500 for the first time since Nov. 11.
“I think we’ve got some aspirations of us being not .500 or below .500 — certainly well above,” Nurse said this week. “I feel like if we’ve got most of our people here, we can win more than we lose by a significant amount. We have a heck of a stretch of games coming with the jumbling around and rescheduling. Let’s hope we stay relatively healthy and see what we can do.”
The Raptors had 22 points each from Gary Trent Jr. and OG Anunoby at Milwaukee on Wednesday. Fred VanVleet, who had scored more than 30 points in each of his previous three games, added 19.
Scottie Barnes had six points, but none in the fourth quarter despite playing the full 12 minutes.
“I see some openings for him offensively that I think we can get to here coming up,” Nurse said. “So that’s another positive that I think I see with this crew late in the game.”
In Denver on Wednesday, the Jazz were without Ingles (health protocol), Hassan Whiteside (concussion) and Gobert (left-shoulder inflammation).
Former Raptor Rudy Gay scored 18 points with seven rebounds and two blocked shots in 29 minutes off the bench for the Jazz. Gay and Udoka Azubuike, who returned from a sprained right ankle to make the start at center, had the responsibility of guarding Denver’s Nikola Jokic. Gay (heel) is questionable for Friday.
Azubuike had five points, one rebound and one blocked shot in 16 minutes.
“(Azubuike) was really focused and ready,” Bogdanovic said. “He gave us great minutes. And Rudy has been big for us all season. Both of them did a great job.”
Mitchell added 17 points but was 1-for-9 in 3-point attempts.
The Jazz are 14-3 on the road and the Raptors are 10-10 at home.
–Field Level Media