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Raptors vs. Nuggets Pick NBA – Feb 1st

Boston yacked one up in a major way last night, wilting in Orlando and allowing the Magic to mount a 13-2 run late (that culminated in Evan Turner picking up a pair of technical and getting tossed) to snap their brutal nine-game losing streak. I gotta admit, I felt pretty good about this one with eight minutes to go and was counting a victory. Such is life in the NBA and the usually road-composed C’s melted down the stretch.

Today starts a new week and a new month, so let’s see if we can start a nice new winning streak and nice run along with the turning of the calendar. We are entering the “dog days” of the NBA season, where teams start the new trend of resting stars inexplicably and without much warning, so it will be more important than ever to check lineups and injury reports throughout the day – and often after my column has posted. It should be a huge issue this week, but bookending the All Star Game is always a tumultuous time with lots of strange box scores and scorelines.

There are some pretty interesting games on the NBA schedule tonight. The Cavaliers are 4-1 under new coach Tyron Lue and get a good test tonight on the road in Indiana. The Mavs continue to remain in the midst of the Western Conference playoff picture and head out to Atlanta tonight, and the mercurial Bulls, who crush the Cavs on the road one night and then lost by a million to the Clippers the next pack their bags for Utah in a game they SHOULD win… but seriously, I’m not touching this team most nights unless they are catching a bunch of points.

Today’s Free Pick:

Toronto Raptors -5.5 at Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets aren’t good this year and their 18-30 record is pretty solid evidence of that fact. But they have been surprisingly competitive lately, despite going 4-6 over their last ten games. The return of Danilo Gallinari has been a big boost and in their last eight home games they are 4-4 with wins over Charlotte, Golden State, Indiana and Detroit and their losses have been largely competitive: Miami by 3, OKC by 6, Memphis by 1, and Atlanta getting them by 14 on a back-to-back. They’ve even been decent on the road since Danilo returned, beating Washington and losing to the Pacers in overtime.

Toronto has VERY quietly emerged as the clear #2 in the East, now trailing Cleveland by 2.5 games and they have won 11 in a row in one of the lesser-discussed winning streaks in recent memory. Discerning eyes would notice that the last seven were at home and only one win was over a Top Ten NBA team. They are certainly a good team that is playing very good basketball, but they aren’t ripping through the tough part of their schedule. There is something VERY positive to be said for winning the games you are supposed to, but I am not quite ready to get carried away and say they are in the category with the Warriors, Spurs, Cavs and Thunder.

The Nuggets beat the Raptors in Toronto two months ago behind Barton’s 22 and Gallinari’s 21 points. It was a rare occasion where Denver out-executed their opponent in the fourth quarter. Don’t be surprised if Toronto sneaks this one out late tonight; they are one of the league’s statistical-best fourth quarter teams while Denver is one of the worst. But with a 5.5 point cushion, I’ll take the Nuggets as that sneaky underdog that is playing far more competitively than their record. They have covered 8 of 11 despite not always getting the straight-up winner.

Free Pick: Denver Nuggets +5.5