The Good Guys: The Phoenix Suns
The Bad Guys: The Denver Nuggets
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO
When: 7 PM MST
Radio: AZ Sports 98.7 FM
Two nights ago, the Denver Nuggets shook off a stretch of six losses in nine games by taking down the Knicks by 16 points.
Last night, on a back-to-back, the Knicks pulverized Phoenix by 31.
Using that logic, it would make sense to expect a loss of approximately 47 points tonight in the mile high city. After a brief two-game win streak, the tank remains strong.
Still, Suns fans continue to celebrate the rapid development of Booker and Len. Over his last four games, Booker is averaging 26.8 points and 5.0 assists on 48/39/89 shooting splits. It's only four games, but those are terrific numbers.
To understand just how unprecedented it is for a 19-year-old to be this dominant, consider this. Since 1980, only three NBA players have had more 30-point games than Devin Booker before turning 20. They are LeBron James (with 20 games), Carmelo Anthony (10) and Kevin Durant (7). Kobe, Marbury and 2015 ROY Andrew Wiggins all sit just behind Booker with two games each.
Alex Len also churned out another strong, albeit quiet, performance. He finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes, and is now averaging 18.4 points and 12.1 rebounds over his last nine games.
The Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets finished strong just before the All-Star break and began the month of February with a 4-2 record. But they are still far out of the playoff race, lagging behind eighth-seeded Houston by six games with only about a month left to play.
With both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari sidelined, the Nuggets' young core is being left to scrap for wins. While the team doesn't have many surefire future stars, they have an assortment of promising young talent.
Emmanuel Mudiay has started at point guard all season long for Denver, and the 7th overall pick is only now starting to shake off the rust. Mudiay is averaging 17.2 points and 6.8 assists over his last five games, and he's even starting to hit his threes with more consistency. But overall efficiency has been the biggest obstacle for the 19-year-old rookie. He's shooting just 35 percent from the field and 29 percent from deep while posting a PER of 9.1
Gary Harris has made big strides in his sophomore year, as he has started 58 games this season and is averaging 11.7 points per game as a shooter.
Perhaps the most intriguing Denver prospects are foreign big men Nikola Jokic, Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic.
Jokic has been terrific in his rookie season, averaging 9.9 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while posting a PER of 21.8. Jokic, the 41st overall pick from the 2014 draft, stole the starting center spot back in January and has not looked back. He has the ability to score inside or out.
Lauvergne is another prospect who came out of nowhere, as he was drafted 55th overall in 2013. Lauvergne seems to have finally solidified a spot in Denver's rotation playing close to 17 minutes per game. He is averaging 15.8 points and 10.4 rebounds per 36 minutes and has started in 15 games, but as a 24-year-old his ceiling may be more limited.
That leaves Nurkic as the odd man out, as the 21-year-old Bosnian has strung together a long stretch of DNP-CDs since recovering from an injury a couple months ago. Nurkic was among the better rookies in the NBA last season, but he struggled in the 19 games he played earlier this season. He shot just 36 percent from the field.
It's a little tough to analyze what the Nuggets are hoping for out of the next couple seasons. Gallinari at this point is 27 and rarely healthy, so can he help the young players make a future playoff push? The Nuggets would have the 8th best lottery odds as of today, which isn't the best place to draft a star.
|Phoenix Suns||Denver Nuggets|
|G||Ronnie Price||Emmanuel Mudiay|
|G||Devin Booker||Gary Harris|
|F||P.J. Tucker||JaKarr Sampson|
|F||Alex Len||Kenneth Faried|
|C||Tyson Chandler||Nikola Jokic|
Still no word on whether Knight will play, but the Suns are probably underdogs regardless.
Last time the Suns had a back-to-back, they followed up a 16-point loss with an 18-point win. But don't hold your breath. Especially not with that high altitude.
Nuggets win, 114-104.