The "easy streak" is over and it's time to get down to business and find out if this Suns team deserves to make the playoffs.
The Nuggets as we all know are much improved this season with a new found interest in playing defense and more importantly a solid, experienced point guard that is more interested in running the offense then scoring the ball.
The Nuggets are big, athletic and deep and will make the Suns earn a win and as Coach Gentry said via twitter, it all starts with rounding at the power forward position. Matt Barnes, he's talking about you.
Jason Richardson has been on fire of late but he will have his hands full with the highly talented and ever mercurial JR Smith. Smith scored 40 on the Wizards in their last game which isn't all the meaningful given JRich score 35 on 5 fewer shots.
What should scare you about JR is that seems to always play well against the Suns and is averaging 17 per game against us which is 6ppg over his career average.
Smith is a well known long range bomber and can finish with the best of them but it his ability to drive and create that worries me most. JRich is going to have to work hard to fight through screens and keep Smith in front of him and on the other end keep him occupied by continuing to be aggressive.
Shaq vs Nene
Nene is a very talented center with a combination of size, strength and skill. While he can't match up on Shaq 1:1 in the post, he will not be a Rue Paul pushover either. The bigger concern is Shaq having to defend Nene. He can face up on Shaq and attack the rim. He has the ability to give Shaq fits but fortunately, the Nuggets don't seem to use him much in this way. If they do go to Nene offensively he could easily end up putting Shaq on the bench with foul trouble.
Behind Nene, The Birdman Andersen is playing well in his comeback season. He is long and active and will be a very tough match for Amundson.
Hill vs Melo
This one should go well for us. Grant is a very able defender who should be able to keep Melo in check. Best case, Anthony gets frustrated and scores 27 points on 23 attempts. I am looking forward to seeing Dudley on Melo as well. Jared is a great perimeter defender with active hands and high energy who will battle with Anthony and could cause him problems.
Behind Melo, Yahoo! Sports reports: Kleiza really has been in a slump lately. He’s shot just 7-of-28 the past four games while averaging 4.5 points.
Barnes vs Martin
As Gentry alluded to, this match-up on the glass will be important. Fortunately for us, Martin has been struggling with back problems and seems to just be getting back into game shape after missing 5 games earlier in the month. He did play limited minutes last week against the Nets, Grizz and Wizards.
He's got a couple of inches on Matt but not too much more in the way of strength and quickness. Both average right around 5 or 6 rebounds per game so on paper this is one that Matt should be able to handle. The key is to play smart and tough and not to take too many of those three's unless they start falling early.
Off the bench the Nuggets run with the active and athletic Renaldo Balkman, the talented but slumping Leinus Kleiza and the long wing span of the Bird Man Andersen. All three are solid front court players.
Where the Nuggets are weakest is in back court depth with Anthony Carter and Dayntay Jones. Both are good defensive guards but neither scare you too much in the way of a Lou Williams or Von Wafer (or Leandro Barbosa).
I am guessing the 20 minutes we saw from Swift the other night was to get him more prepared for his game. Stromile might be called on to have a big contribution off the bench to help in the paint with the the Nuggets size. Tucker probably won't play a big role in this one perhaps getting a few minutes in the second quarter. Gentry can go with Hill at the shooting guard to help on Smith if he gets hot and JRich can easily play 40 minutes in a game like this.
Dragic will hopefully continue his improved play. He won't have a tough cover and should look to push the ball and play within himself.
This should be a great game and as important of a contest since the Mavs loss. Let's hope this one turns out better and with the way the Suns played during the "easy streak", I am predicting they will.
Suns 112 - 106