Raps dominated in Denver

Denver Nuggets' Nene tries to get around Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Denver Nuggets' Nene tries to get around Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani. (REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:35 PM ET

DENVER — Everything that needed to go right went wrong, every piece that was required to fall into place went missing.

When a team plays the back end of a back-to-back set, at high altitude no less, mental toughness looms as important as any game plan.

When a team settles for jumpers and eschews any drives to the basket, attempts passes while leaving one’s feet, allows open looks and looks completed disjointed in its defensive rotations, the outcome is predictable.

When reserves are asked to step up in the wake of starters getting extended minutes the night previous and nothing significant is being created, it makes for a long evening.

And as improbable as Sunday’s win in Oklahoma City, Monday’s mauling by the host Nuggets was, in retrospect, expected.

What wasn’t expected was how little resistance the visitors provided, not even a token attempt to apply any pressure when the Raptors had possession and how little intensity was played on defence.

It got so bad that garbage time arrived during the second quarter when head coach Jay Triano looked down his bench and called on seldom-used Julian Wright and Alexis Ajinca as all 12 available players saw the floor.

Perhaps the best of the lot was Amir Johnson, the hero in OKC whose late-game basket provided the margin of victory, a win that snapped Toronto’s franchise-record 14-game road losing streak.

There was some activity in Johnson, but his wonky left ankle finally gave in, a condition that meant Johnson would not return for the second half.

Even if Johnson were available, it would not have made a single difference as the Raptors fell hard in a resounding 123-90 loss.

On this night, nothing could be summoned from anyone, absolutely nothing.

On one possession, Andrea Bargnani had the ball on the right side of the floor just across the Nuggets bench and about 20 feet from the basket.

As he tried to get his man off his feet, Bargnani pump faked about four times while his four teammates just stood on the court, stationary, almost in a trance, producing one of the most ugly possessions on a wretched night.

The Raptors knew the onslaught was coming from the Nuggets and knew their mental resolve would be put to the ultimate test and then came a series of nothings that added up to a beat-down.

By halftime, the Nuggets were leading 72-44. Denver played the entire second quarter with a 20-point lead after being ignited in the opening 12 minutes by Ty Lawson.

With Raymond Felton nursing an injured ankle, the game was left in the hands of fellow former Tar Heel Lawson to run the show and run roughshod over the Raptors.

Jose Calderon couldn’t keep Lawson in front of him and the Raptors defence as a whole couldn’t stop Lawson from lighting up the scoreboard.

In one of those clinical offensive moments, Lawson would make all five of his shots from the field and convert all five of his free throws en route to a 17-point quarter.

“We have to be ready right off the tip because this is a team that has been sitting here waiting,” Triano said before the on-court carnage would begin. “They are going to come after us and we know that.”

With an off day to lick their wounds, perhaps the Raptors will compete better when they next play in Phoenix on Wednesday as the five-game road trip continues.

The Raptors were given Saturday off after Wednesday night’s win over Washington and the energy and precision they brought to OKC were off the charts.

Monday was a different story, the polar opposite as the night before.

With Carmelo Anthony no longer around, the Nuggets have become a different team by having multiple players involved, especially on offence.

Without a star, the atmosphere inside the Pepsi Center was decidedly low key.

Maybe in time, the folks in the Mile High City will warm up to this group, which is now 10-4 since Melo’s trade to New York and battling for home court in the playoffs.

The Nuggets are a good, but the Raptors made them look great.


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