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Nene had his way on the inside, while the rest of the Nuggets hit daggers from the outside

The Raptors were looking to make it two straight Friday night victories over Western Conference teams missing their stars, as Carmelo Anthony sat this one out. Jose Calderon sat out for Toronto, reportedly suffering from a cold and sore foot.

From the get-go, it was apparent this was going to be an offensively dominated ball game. The two teams traded baskets, with the odd defensive stop garnering big cheers from a lively crowd.

That crowd was slowly silenced, as Denver shot 75 percent in the first quarter en route to a 39-point quarter and a 74-point first half. The Raptors were putting on an offensive display of their own, racking up 65 points before the break, but free throws and three-balls were the difference.

At halftime, Denver was 16-of-17 from the charity stripe and 8-of-16 from beyond the arc. Toronto was 3-of-4 and 4-0f-13, respectively.

The trend continued into the third quarter, as the Nuggets bombed away from three and were rewarded with free throws when they went inside. The Raptors, on the other hand, grew increasingly stagnant on the offensive end, continued to botch free throws and weren’t getting the calls on the rare instance they did drive the lane.

It all amounted to a 19-point Nuggets lead late in the third quarter, but you knew the Raptors would show their usual fight at some point. The Raps battled back to end the third and attempted the uphill battle in the fourth, but consistently came up short.

Between some ridiculous shots falling for the Nuggets and the Raptors shooting themselves in the foot, T.O. didn’t stand a chance. On one possession, with the Raps down seven, Al Harrington chucked up a fade-away three from well behind the arc that hit nothing but net.

Later, with the Raptors down just four, Chauncey Billups missed a tough shot and the rebound fell to Linas Kleiza, with no Nuggets around him. Sonny Weems then ran through Kleiza’s arms, and the ball deflected out of bounds. It was one of those nights at the ACC.

From an individual standpoint, Kleiza silenced his critics (for now) with his best performance as a Raptor. Andrea Bargnani added 24 points, but gets no love from me tonight, as Nene abused him on the other end.

Sonny Weems rebounded nicely with a 21-point, seven-rebound performance, but still settled for too many ill-advised jumpers that just happened to fall for him tonight. DeMar DeRozan looked lost out there, as he refused to attack the basket on one end and was unaware on the defensive end. Case in point, a loose ball slowly bounced by him in the fourth quarter and ended up in the hands of J.R. Smith, who promptly buried a three.

Jerryd Bayless responded to his first start as a Raptor with what was probably his worst game as a Raptor. He and Barbosa both tried to force things offensively, and while the offence put up 116 points, the lack of ball movement and lack of aggressiveness was painful to watch.

If the Raptors want to come out of this funk, they need to get back to putting an honest effort in on the defensive end, they need to start making their free throws and they need to figure out how to run a solid play out of a timeout. I don’t know if it’s bad play-calling on Jay and the coaching staff’s part, or a lack of execution on the players’ part, but a group of kids playing street ball can organize a better play out of a huddle right now.

The Raps are back at it on Saturday night in Detroit (without Calderon again) to face a Pistons team also coming off of a Friday night loss. We’ll do it all again in about 24 hours.

Raptors Player of the Game: Linas Kleiza -31 Min, 26 Pts, 11-16 FG, 4-5 3Pt, 0-1 FT, 12 Reb, 1 Ast, 1 Stl

Nuggets Player of the Game: Al Harrington -36 Min, 31 Pts, 12-19 FG, 6-11 3Pt, 1-1 FT, 6 Reb, 3 Ast

Goat of the Game: Jerryd Bayless – 23 Min, 3 Pts, 1-9 FG, 1-4 3Pt, 0-2 FT, 5 Ast

Side-note: I highly doubt George Karl will glance at this post before departing, but never the less, we have to congratulate Karl on grabbing win no. 1000 for his career tonight. It has to feel that much sweeter for all involved, given what Karl’s been through recently. Well done, coach.