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Preview: Suns visit Denver Nuggets to push closer to playoff spot

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The first of two games against the Nuggets that will likely decide the Suns’ fate this year.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What: Denver Nuggets (19-25) vs. Phoenix Suns (15-30)

When: 7:00 PM AZ Time

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

Watch: Fox Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM


There’s been considerable momentum building toward this home-and-home series between the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets. Denver currently occupies the West’s eighth playoff seed, a spot Phoenix has been chasing all season long. The result of these two games will go a long way in determining the trajectory of the rest of the Suns’ season.

The Nuggets

This team currently has its hands in many honey pots; they could be both buyers (a point guard?) and sellers (Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Jusuf Nurkic) at the trade deadline. They could also be pushers or tankers as the season trudges on. Their ability to control the last playoff seed will be a major factor in deciding their fate for the rest of the year.

In many ways, the Nuggets are in a similar position to the Suns, exemplified by their awkward trade deadline juxtaposition. They have several veterans, like Gallinari, Faried, Jameer Nelson, Darrell Arthur and Wilson Chandler, capable of handling large minute loads and keeping games competitive. However, there is pressure from fans and others who care to play the youngsters more. That means Emmanuel Mudiay (currently injured), Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic and Will Barton.

More than anything, what separates these teams is pure talent. The Nuggets have more of it; a lot, in fact. This is the team that laid 140 on the Indiana Pacers earlier this month, and beat the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz in the past week. Their young core is connecting with their elders quite nicely, and the team is impressing people.

Starters: PG Jameer Nelson, SG Gary Harris, SF Danilo Gallinari, PF Kenneth Faried, C Nikola Jokic

The Suns

The main thing I’m looking for tonight: How do the Suns’ bigs handle the Nuggets’ formidable front line? Neither Chandler nor Len appears particularly well-suited to handle the smart, quick style of Jokic, and Faried can do his own kind of damage when he gets going. The Nuggets are a team that can play a variety of intelligent, skilled big men at any given time. The Suns, some nights, struggle to find even one guy who can provide that consistently.

Lastly, this is a matchup that the Suns’ starting duo of Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe can dominate. Harris is young but undersized at the two, and Nelson is not young, and also undersized. The bench offers little defensive resistance, either. As always, the Suns’ ability to notch a win will be based on how well these two play.

Starters: PG Eric Bledsoe, SG Devin Booker, SF T.J. Warren, PF Marquese Chriss, C Tyson Chandler

Season Series: Nuggets 2-0

In both games, the Nuggets posted 120 points on the Suns. Denver’s bigs completely dominated Len and Chandler in the first contest, and the Nuggets doubled the Suns up in offensive rebounding.

In the second, the rebounding totals were more equal, but the Nuggets put on a clinic in offensive unselfishness, out-passing the Suns on their way to 21 assists. Mudiay led the way with six, everyone chipped in a little, and a late Suns rally wasn’t enough.

Prediction

I don’t know how many more great performances we can expect out of both members of the starting backcourt in the same game. They’ve both been great lately, but on the road in the altitude against a team the Suns have struggled to control, the odds are against them.

I’m predicting a Suns LOSS, with both teams scoring a bunch.