What: Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets
Where: Pepsi Center
When: 7:00 PM (AZ)
Watch: FSAZ (local)
Listen: AZ Sports 98.7 FM
Probable Starting lineups:
Suns: Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, P.J. Tucker, Markieff Morris, Alex Len
Nuggets: Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Kenneth Farried, Jusuf Nurkic
You didn't think the Phoenix Suns would have an easy adjustment period after adding Brandon Knight, did you?
The Suns crawled into the All-Star break struggling mightily, and despite having 10 days off, have continued to struggle after the hiatus. This should fully be expected from a team that has traded several of its key components and added a new starter in Knight, but Monday night's loss to the Boston Celtics wasn't very pretty.
Playoff hopes for the Suns are growing dimmer and dimmer after a 2-8 stretch, which includes the five game losing streak the Suns are currently on. If the Suns even want to compete for that 8th seed, they need to string together some wins now (maybe don't hold your breath, though).
They have a great chance to get a win tonight against the only team in the NBA that has been worse than the Suns over the last 10 games: the Denver Nuggets. They are 1-9 over that stretch, and worse yet, 2-16 over their last 18 games. Yikes.
The Nugs were one of the more active teams at the trade deadline last week, shipping out Aaron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee, and JaVale McGee, and taking in, well, really just Will Barton (Thomas Robinson and Victor Claver were obtained in trades, but have since been waived). These moves helped free up some time for young guys like Gary Harris, Jusuf Nurkic, and Joffrey Lauvergne.
Phoenix really needs to capitalize against this downward-spiraling club. Denver is really kind of a mess. They remind me a bit of the ill-fated 2012-2013 Suns in that they have a muddled roster and likely some chemistry issues. Their best player, Ty Lawson, has had an, um, unpleasant season after getting a DNP last Friday for ditching practice and getting arrested for a DUI earlier in the year. Notwithstanding his decent play (16.7 ppg and 9.9 apg, which is a close second to John Wall's league leading 10.1 apg), Lawson has been troublesome for the Nuggets this season.
Behind Lawson, Denver has a lot of decent but overall underwhelming players. Expect a lot of threes from Danilo Gallinari (4.O attempts per game) and Wilson Chandler (5.6), but they shoot at 32% and 33% clips, respectively (The Nuggets as a team rank 29th in 3P%). Kenneth Farried will do Kenneth Farried things, but I think we all know what to expect from him at this point. Outside of those guys, it's really just a glut of power forwards on the roster. Your J.J. Hickson's, your Darrell Arthur's, your what-have-you's.
With roughly 95% of its roster filled with power forwards, the Nuggets are naturally pretty good at rebounding, ranking 5th in the league for rebounds per game. In case you didn't know, the Suns are pretty mediocre on the boards. The last time the Suns played the Nuggets, the teams split a home and home. In their win, the Suns were outrebounded 47-41. In their loss, they were outrebounded 58-34.
The other thing the Nuggets are above average at is defending the three. They only allow 31% from long, which ranks 11th in the league. Though the Suns shot a stinky 28% from the three against Boston on Monday, they've still been shooting at a decent 36% clip since the All-Star break. We'll see how they respond to a good three-point defense, and who knows, maybe we'll even see Gerald Green (remember him?) pump in 6 threes like he did the last time the Suns beat the Nuggets.
There really isn't too much else to say about Denver outside of that. Lawson vs. Bledsoe should be a fun matchup, and it'll be interesting to see Alex Len take on fellow foreign center Nurkic. Denver is a fast-paced team (5th in pace) like the Suns (2nd in pace), and both of the previous games between the two teams had the winner hitting 120 points, so we should expect a track meet. Despite their fast pace, the Nuggets have not been a fun team to watch lately, and the Suns don't want to lose to a team like this after their last few losses. The Mile High City can be a tough place to play at, but the Nuggets have not been the home juggernaut they have been in years past, and there's no reason to think the Suns shouldn't be able to take care of business in Denver.
Prediction: Suns 120, Denver 112