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Game Preview: Suns host Nuggets in early game today!

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The Phoenix Suns host the Denver Nuggets in an afternoon matinee, 1:30 tip off.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns host Denver Nuggets

When: 1:30 pm AZ time

Location: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix, Arizona

Watch: FoxSports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM or 620 AM


The Suns game starts right about when you’ll know if the Cardinals’ playoff chances are completely shot or not. One more loss by the Cardinals puts another nail in the non-playoff coffin.

While the Arizona Cardinals are enjoying a second-half full of road games, the Suns finally get off the road a bit to host some teams in the pleasantly warm valley of the sun. Coming from a guy who just spent a few days in 0-degree Colorado, the 70-something balmy temps in Phoenix are quite nice.

The Suns (5-12) host a Nuggets (6-10) just as young and just as unpredictable. Both teams sandwich frustrating losses around good wins.

Who knows what we will get in Phoenix Suns or the Nuggets today. Either team could produce a blowout, in either direction.

The Nuggets

After the Ty Lawson/George Karl meltdown, the Nugs have supplemented an organic rebuild - Jamal Murray and Emmanual Mudiay, both drafted 7th overall the last two years - with some great finds later in the draft.

Gary Harris (mid-first, 2014) has flashed really good combo-guard skills. Jusuf Nurkic (mid-first, 2014) and Nikola Jokic (2nd round, 2015) are high quality big men who are already better pros than most front offices thought they’d be. Nurkic is the old-school bruising center, while Jokic is the more widely-skilled pivot man. The problem in Denver is that they don’t really play well together, so coach Mike Malone has had to stagger their minutes.

The Nuggets are trying to fast-track their rebuild without losing their favorite good-but-not-great rotation players in Danilo Gallinari (28 years old), Wilson Chandler (29) and Kenneth Faried (27). Remember when those three, plus Ty Lawson, were the future in Denver? But due partially to injury and partially to bad roster management and partially to none of them becoming actual team-leading stars, the Nuggets have had to embark on a new rebuild.

After years of dealing with myriad injury issues, the Nuggets are mostly healthy this year and now trying to juggle a roster with too many playable parts that don’t all fit together.

Gary Harris remains out with foot strain, and Danilo Gallinari (thigh), Will Barton (personal) and Juan Hernangomez (ankle) are questionable for today’s game.

Watch out for Jamal Murray (19 years old), who’s been shooting lights out making 21 of his last 39 threes (54%) over 7 games, with three straight 20+ point games.

Emmanual Mudiay (20) has had a tough start to his second season. If the only time you’ve seen him this year was against the Suns, you might not believe he’s still making only 36% of his shots and contributing just 4 assists per game as the lead guard.

But the Nuggets win or lose based on the play of Chandler, Gallinari and Faried who are still the core of the team. Wilson Chandler has been particularly good recently, posting a stat line of 19.6/8.9/2.4 with 38% three point shooting.

Like Watson with the Suns, Nuggets coach Mike Malone might rely too much on his veterans rather than going full monty with the kiddie core. The Nuggets have even more young players than the Suns, yet give a lot of minutes to Gallo, Chandler, Jameer Nelson and Faried who won’t be leading them to the playoffs.

The Suns

No team has played more road games than the Suns’ 11 and only Chicago and Dallas have played fewer home games than the Suns’ 6.

The Suns now are in a schedule-balancing stretch of 7 home games versus only 3 road games through December 17. The home stretch started poorly on Friday night when the Suns played only three quarters to the Wolves’ four. This time, let’s see if the Suns can play all four quarters.

With T.J. Warren out, the Suns continue to start a three-guard lineup. Eric Bledsoe leads the team over the past 10 games with 18.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Alex Len has been averaging nearly a double-double (9.9/9.4) over the last 10 games on 56.5% shooting.

Rookies Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and Tyler Ulis are getting a bit of time in recent games but not nearly enough, especially considering Tyson Chandler and T.J. Warren have both been out.

Watson is at least regularly going 11-deep on the rotation and no one is playing more than 31 minutes per game over the last 10 games. Let’s see how that plays out with Chandler now back in the fold.

Probable starting lineups

Gallinari will start if he plays, but is currently listed as questionable. Without Gallo, Wilson Chandler steps into the starting lineup.

In the backcourt, Mike Malone has lately started Jameer Nelson next to Mudiay to get more playmaking on the court. He’s also toyed with Will Barton, but Barton is questionable with a personal issue.

For the Suns, expect Tyson Chandler to retake the starter job from Alex Len soon. Chandler was one of the best in the league in rebounding and screen-setting before he took bereavement leave.

Watch twitter for pre-game updates on Nuggets and Suns starters.

Matchups

I really don’t like the Suns three-guard lineup with Bledsoe, Knight and Booker. Knight hasn’t been good this year on either end of the court (he’s a minus-24 per 100 possessions on the scoreboard, no matter who he’s playing next to) and Booker just doesn’t have the bulk to play big minutes at small forward. But that’s what we get till T.J. Warren comes back.

Luckily for us, Brandon Knight absolutely kills the Nuggets, posting his highest scoring games in each of the past two years against them (38 last year, 32 this year).

The matchup I hope to see, regardless of lineup juggling, is Devin Booker versus Jamal Murray. Lately, Murray has been scorching the nets while Booker is still trying to find his killer scoring rhythm. I’d love to see these guys as the high scorers for each of their teams today.

Another matchup to watch is Nurkic against Len. Both are old-school bruiser at the center position who don’t have much offense outside the paint.

Prediction

Who knows?

Could be a Suns blowout. Could be a Nuggets blowout. Could be a close game.

I’m going to watch the young guys on both teams the closest, to see who among them might be the league’s next big thing. Let’s hope that player is wearing Suns colors.