It's an important four days for the Phoenix Suns. They enter a two-game stretch at home against two teams they should be able to beat and a chance to get back on track before a daunting schedule that lasts until March.
The Phoenix Suns take on the Denver Nuggets at 7:00 p.m., with radio coverage on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM and TV coverage on Fox Sports AZ.
The Suns issues are not about their opponents, but it's worth talking about the Nuggets for the somewhat pleasant surprise they have been. Instead of being a basement dweller with the likes of the Lakers and Sixers, the Nuggets have been surprisingly below average.
Danilo Gallinari is finally healthy, Will Barton is arguably the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year not on the Golden State Warriors and decent contributions from Nikola Jokic have helped considerably with the absence of one of the best young big men in the NBA Jusuf Nurkic.
The most interesting part about the Nuggets is their willingness to give a rookie point guard complete control of the team, even when he's having a terrible season statistically. I have no doubt about the player that Emmanuel Mudiay is and this should subside over time, but he has a -8.9 net rating and his backcourt partner Gary Harris is right next to him with a -8.1 net rating. Mudiay has phenomenal court vision and Harris is already becoming one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, but it's going to take time in Denver and you have to respect the Nuggets for just accepting the rough patch they will be in giving these two considerable time in the lineup.
The Suns have been easily handling the Nuggets this year. Denver scored only 28 points in the first half of the first meeting and the Suns had possibly their best win of the season in Denver a week later, when the Suns scored 97 points in the last three quarters and Brandon Knight had a career-high 38 points.
With rankings near the bottom in both offensive and defensive rating, the Nuggets should bottom out, but Mudiay and Harris are improving every week and Nurkic should be back soon. They could continue to be a stingy 9-11 seed in the West this season.
The Suns appear to have hit a breaking point and the bossman did well to show the frustration it brought fans of the team. The overlying theme here is that the Suns aren't getting what they were promised out of almost everyone on the roster.
Brandon Knight might just be a better version of Jamal Crawford and continue to be an absolute dumpster fire on defense, P.J. Tucker isn't P.J. Tucker when he's not playing great defense and consistently making impact plays, Markieff Morris might have had his best game on Monday but that seems too far gone with his mysterious benching, Tyson Chandler has definitely lost a step on defense and doesn't present much use on offense when the best passer on the team is a power forward, Alex Len remains far too inconsistent, T.J. Warren is disappearing in games too often and sure doesn't help the flow of the offense and Archie Goodwin and Sonny Weems appear to be stuck on the bench.
There's also a lack of effort from multiple players, which is why one can assume we saw the lineup changes on Monday. It seemed to be far less about what it did for the on-court product and far more about the message Hornacek was sending the team.
As for the bright spots, Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic are providing great bench play offensively, but both are still liabilities on defense and even at their best level of play will never be even an above average version of the best Morris. Devin Booker is the crown jewel, but at the end of the day is still a 19-year-old and you can't expect Ronnie Price to have much of an impact on the game as a fifth guard even if he's been playing much better than any of us thought he could.
And then there's Eric Bledsoe, who provided the biggest surprise of the season with his play in the past two games. Personally I love watching Bledsoe play. He's a true two-way player with tremendous athleticism and absolute fearlessness when he attacks the basket. He's becoming a better shooter every year and is always giving 100 percent. That is, until the last week. That was not the Bledsoe we've been watching the past three years.
He simply did not care. He was lazy on defense, pointing at teammates to recover for him when he made a mistake -- which he rarely makes and were all due to effort -- or not giving even a millisecond of time to think about who he should be picking up in transition. He took horrible shots very early in the shot clock, appearing to not have a care in the world when he did so.
Look, I understand the frustrations he can have when he gets bombarded in the lane for no foul call. He clearly doesn't have the respect of the officials, who are apparently used to him flailing through the air and crashing down to the floor after contact with a defender. There's verticality and there's just not calling fouls.
That's likely the result of his technical foul, but that doesn't give him any reason to quit on his coach and his team when they are truly in a now or never spot in their season and the same goes for Hornacek's job. It was a back-to-back and all, but for both games it was not difficult to notice a different Bledsoe on the floor. That's bad for the team, the franchise and the supposed leader we thought we were getting back in September.
As for the game, it really is now or never. After this game against Denver the Suns get the Sixers, but then they play the Cavs, Spurs and Thunder, with the last two on the road to close out 2015. Then to start 2016, nine of their 14 games are against teams with winning records in January. February gets worse, with eight of their 10 games being against teams above .500 and one of those teams not being counted is Utah, who just handled Phoenix on Monday.
Of those 27 games, they include two against Cleveland, three against San Antonio, two against Oklahoma City and a five-game stretch that includes those last two teams, Golden State, Houston and the Clippers.
How you view the next two months for the Suns depends on your outlook of the team. Maybe the increase in competition is the kick they need to really get it going or maybe this is when the season ends and we start talking about if we prefer Checik Diallo or Ivan Rabb at No. 12 in the draft.