Time: 7 pm (Phoenix time)
TV: Fox Sports Arizona
Radio: 98.7 FM
What holidays fall on January 3rd? That’s what Holidays with Deadpoolio is about to tell you! Today is Festival of Sleep Day, where people with heavy eyelids (or weary legs) everywhere repair to their beds or couches or office sleep tents for a little extra shuteye. Just be sure you don’t combine Festival of Sleep Day with Memento Mori Day (aka: Remember You Will Die Day), which is also today — at least not if your Pristiq prescription isn’t current.
The Phoenix Suns (15-24) will try to string together another two-game win streak as they hit the road to face the Denver Nuggets (19-17).
The Nuggets will enter this game well rested, not having played since Dec. 30 in a five-point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Nikola Jokic represents a significant chunk of Denver’s future. The young center leads the Nuggets in scoring (16.3), rebounding (10.2), and assists (4.5) while being second in steals (1.2) and third in blocks (0.8). Garry Harris is second on the team in scoring at 16 points per game, followed by Jamal Murray (15.8). Wilson Chandler averages nearly 10 points himself in the starting lineup, and Mason Plumlee worked his way into a regular starter spot in December, although his performances have been uneven. Will Barton leads the Nuggets’ bench attack at 14.9 points per game and is followed by solid contributions from Emmanuel Mudiay (9.5 points, 40.5-percent shooting from 3) and Trey Lyles (9.5 points, 46.1-percent shooting from 3). Kenneth Faried has been racking up DNPs after a strong stretch from late November to early December.
At this point, Denver is a much more talented offensive team than it is defensive. They average 107.2 points per game, shoot 46.2 percent from the field, and dish 23.3 assists per contest — all top-10 ranks in the league. However, they are in the bottom 10 when it comes to turnovers (15.4) and their opponent field goal percentage is in the bottom five (47.4). One area where Denver excels, though, is rebounding. Opponents grab an NBA-low 40.9 rebounds against them this season, thanks in large part to their 11.8 offensive rebounds per game (second in the NBA). They are one of only a handful of teams that rebound better than the Phoenix Suns on average this season.
Points: Nikola Jokic (16.3)
Rebounds: Nikola Jokic (10.2)
Assists: Nikola Jokic (4.5)
The Suns come into this game winners of six out of their last nine games, including a 104-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks that saw Marquese Chriss make a crucial block late and Dennis Schröder secure Atlanta’s tank by going for a layup with the game winding down and the Hawks trailing by three.
For Phoenix, the conversation begins with Devin Booker. He has scored at least 30 points in three of his first four games since coming back from his injury, averaging 31 points over that span. T.J. Warren has been equally happy to have Booker back, benefiting from the attention he draws to average 25.5 points on 61.6-percent shooting from the field. And then there’s Chriss. He is averaging 12.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks while shooting 60 percent from the field and 52.9 percent from 3 over his past five games. Even more, though, his energy has looked much better as of late. Whether that’s due to an attitude shift, better conditioning, or a combination of both, this is the Chriss the Suns need on a consistent basis, and he’s been a major factor in the team’s recent stretch of wins.
The Suns’ defense continues to anchor their recent stretch of success. They rank seventh in the NBA for opponent field goal percentage over the last nine games (44.5 percent) and first in opponent 3-point percentage over the same span (30.8). However, the Suns have really clamped down in the 4th quarters, holding opponents to 39.1 percent from the field (second in the NBA) and 22.7 points over the previous nine 4th quarters (best in the NBA).
Points: Devin Booker (25.2)
Rebounds: Tyson Chandler (9.6)
Assists: Isaiah Canaan (5.1)
Jared Dudley (Suns): illness (DOUBTFUL)
Tyson Chandler (Suns): old (probably OUT)
Brandon Knight (Suns): torn left ACL (OUT)
Davon Reed (Suns): torn left meniscus (OUT)
Alan Williams (Suns): torn right meniscus (OUT)
Paul Millsap (Nuggets): left wrist surgery (OUT)
This is the first of three meetings between the Suns and Nuggets this season. Denver won all four meetings between the two clubs last season, with a different Nugget stepping up each game to bury Phoenix. This looks like a schedule loss, with the Suns traveling into the altitude on the second game of a back-to-back while Denver has been resting at home for a few days. However, Phoenix is riding a wave of momentum right now and could surprise Denver if the Nuggets approach the game thinking about all those things listed above for the Suns. Heck, they could win it by getting more big performances from Booker, Warren, and Chriss among others. Phoenix will have to contain Jokic to have a shot at victory, but the Suns’ front line has proved itself equal to the task many times this season.
Marquese Chriss vs. Nikola Jokic
Nikola Jokic is cut from the new cloth of NBA big men who operate more as 7’ guards. With Mason Plumlee likely bumping Jokic down to power forward in the starting lineup, Marquese Chriss will have his hands full defensively. The Suns’ sophomore forward has done a better job of avoiding foul trouble and making an impact, but his progress will be tested tonight. Chriss needs to not only limit Jokic’s all-around game on offense, but he needs to make him work on the other end as well. The last thing the Suns want is Jokic resting on defense. Tagging him with a few fouls while he’s at it would be an added bonus.
Deadpoolio’s Neat-o Stat of the Game Preview (brought to you by NBA.com)
Ten teams have six or more wins over their last nine games. The Phoenix Suns are one of them. The other nine are all currently in playoff position.