Game Day Open Thread: Playoff Series Round 0: 5-6th Suns vs. 7-9th Nuggets

Denver Nuggets
Phoenix Suns
45-28 49-24
Game 1: March 31st, 7:00 PM PT/10:00 PM ET
Game 2: April 1st, 6:00 PM PT/9:00 PM ET
Probable starters:
Steve Nash PG Anthony Carter
Leandro Barbosa SG Allen Iverson
Grant Hill Raja Bell SF Carmelo Anthony
Amare Stoudemire PF Kenyon Martin
Shaquille O'Neal C Marcus Camby

Friends of mine who oppose NCAA football playoffs argue that the entire season is more exciting because the season IS the playoffs.  Each game matters.  Each game as national title implications.

How lucky we are to see playoff intensity NBA basketball this early in the regular season!  

By luck of the NBA schedule, your 5th-6thish ranked Phoenix SUNS continue its pre-playoff battles with an exciting back-to-back home-and-away Round 0 playoff against the 7-9thish ranked Denver Nuggets.

This playoff mini-series is expected to have full-series playoff intensity as both teams are fighting for positioning and survival.  Phoenix is fighting for a first round home court advantage, which may matter more this year given that no matchup is a sure thing for any team.  Denver is fighting to retain its playoff chances and is in a deadlocked three-way heat with Golden State and Dallas for two playoff spots. It's a regular season musical chairs nightmare.

Current Trends:
Both teams come into the series hot (or desperate), each having won 8 of their last 10 games.

We've also learned that the SUNS are not completely cured of turnoveritis.  This vicious disease has not been as rapidly cured as we initially thought.  It may recur and and is closely associated with low energy and coming out tired or flat.

Generic Forecast:
The obvious forecast between two highly motivated teams home-and-away, back-to-back is 1 and 1.  This would be par for any highly contested playoff matchup.  One would be tempted to think the SUNS could steal the extra game, based on the Nuggets lesser record and lack of playoff basketball success, but I don't see it here with the dangerous and comparatively healthy lineup the Nuggets are putting on the floor nor with the various SUNS current inconsistencies in energy and play.    

Nuggets -  
JR Smith is the outside shooter that could break the game open for the Nuggets.  He was 6-8 from 3 against the Suns.  He knows he will get open looks and like the rest of the Nuggets team, has great confidence playing against the SUNS.  Alternatively, he could hand the game over to the Suns with a few knuckleheaded plays.

Suns -

  • "NRG" - Which SUNS team is going to show up each night?  Motivation is not a problem, but fatigue and nagging injuries are.  The team that can summon more resolve will win.  The second game of the back-to-back will be in Denver.  If the SUNS come out flat or tired, we'll see a lot of turnovers and sloppy play that AI and team will be able to exploit.    
  • Whoever's guarding 6-8 230 Carmelo Anthony and it shouldn't be primarily 6-5 215 Raja Bell.  Hopefully, 6-8, 225 Grant Hill can handle a bit of it, although he has been injured and committed a number of silly fouls in the 76ers game.  Hill was covering AI most of the last game.  With Hill out or Hill trying to put length onto AI, look for 6-6 220 Gordan Giricek to shoulder some of the defensive responsibilities on Melo.
  • Bench Play.  In my March 5th post game notes below, I said "This is why we lost (March 5th to Denver).  We lost today because of the first half stretch with Nash out.  It's hard to recover when you spot a good team 10 points in their arena."  While Bench play will always be a wildcard with Beep-Beep and Boris Meow, this is the lesser wild card now that D'Antoni has a much better sense now of rotations and what works, like, for example, throwing the rock to Shaq in the low post whenever Nash is resting.

TexSUN's Post Game Notes
My Post Game Notes

The two teams last met March 5th in Denver, where the Nuggets outran the SUNS 126-113, outplaying the SUNS in the final three quarters.  Shaq had monster game of 12 points on 5-6 shooting and 18 rebounds (Camby was 9 and 8).  

They last played on January 7th at PHX with a score of PHO 137, DEN 115, but this game is meaningless given the SUNS dramatic personnel changes.

Here's an average comparison of the two teams, showing that both score about 109 and give up 105.

Western Conference
Rank Team    W     L     PCT     GB     HM     RD     CONF     DIV     PF     PA     DIFF     STRK     L10
6     Phoenix     49     24     .671     1     26-10     23-14     25-18     9-6     109.9     105.2     +4.8    Won 2     8-2
8     Denver     45     28     .616     5     30-7     15-21     26-17     10-4     109.7     105.7     +4.0    Won 5     8-2

Pick Axe and Roll will have the view of the game from the Nuggets fan side.

Live blogging commences at tipoff in the comments of this post.