When: 6:00 PM PT
Where: Pepsi Center
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
When was the last time the Suns had this much excitement around them, especially after the season opener? It’s been years, but the direction finally seems to be pointing the right way behind talents like Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
It’s been four years since the Suns started a season off by going 2-0. It would be the first time in Booker’s career, if they can pull it off tonight against an improved Nuggets team.
And it’s fair to say if Phoenix comes out with the win, excitement levels locally are going to rise even more. Consistent competitive basketball hasn’t been seen in the Valley since the 7 Seconds or Less days. Slowly but surely, this group could bring that same energy back — and stepping into the Pepsi Center and upending Denver would definitely attract more Suns fans to their next home game on Oct. 24 versus LeBron James’ Lakers.
Crazy that having a competent coaching staff coupled with a rising star and potentially dominant big man can do to an organization, right?
Suns - Isaiah Canaan, Devin Booker, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Deandre Ayton
Nuggets - Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic
The Denver Nuggets are one of the most intriguing teams for me this season in the Western Conference. Not only did they draft Michael Porter Jr. after he slipped to No. 14, who I think will be a steal once he redshirts this year following back surgery, but they re-signed Nikola Jokic and Will Barton to keep their core together.
And in the second half of last season, Jokic looked like a sleeper MVP candidate. I see his play carrying over averaging around 20-12-7 on great efficiency while Jamal Murray is on the cusp of breaking out. By the time the playoffs roll around, I see Denver finishing as the No. 4 seed in front of teams like Los Angeles (Lakers) and Oklahoma City.
Denver also has the opportunity at max cap space this summer, with them inevitably declining Paul Millsap’s team option. They are an interesting destination for one of the second tier free agents, like Khris Middleton, Tobias Harris, and Harrison Barnes.
Anyways, let’s get back to game action.
Millsap is someone who actually classifies as Denver’s X-factor to pull off a victory tonight. Either he will be guarded by Ryan Anderson or Deandre Ayton, who he could try to get into early foul trouble. Millsap can pick-and-pop but he’s also very versatile on the defensive end. With so much attention on Jokic, Millsap could be in position for a 20 and 10 game.
Also, keep an eye on Murray because he’s always ready to explode for a 30-point game at any given time, if he gets hot from behind the arc. This is a big test in the first few minutes for Isaiah Canaan, but Josh Jackson will likely be covering him whenever he enters into the game.
If the Suns want to be a competitive team this season, traveling to Denver is a great barometer this early on.
We might as well get right into the Murray-Jackson matchup, because it’s huge in order for Phoenix to pull off an upset. Jackson held his own often when placed across from Dennis Smith Jr. on Wednesday. Expect Jackson to continue taking on opposing point guards, especially during closing situations. If Jackson can also continue to shoot it confidently from deep, that goes a long way toward not only his short term gains but long term development.
The biggest individual battle, though, goes to Ayton versus Jokic. Hopefully Ayton is able to play after rolling his ankle in practice on Friday, and if he’s cleared it’s going to be another early test for the No. 1 pick.
Unlike DeAndre Jordan, Jokic can stretch his offense out to the perimeter but he’s a far worse defender. Ayton has the opportunity early to show his brute strength by posting up Jokic endlessly. Wearing out Jokic on one end usually leads to sluggishness on the other. Ayton passed his first test with flying colors, but Jokic presents an entirely different challenge.
Gary Harris will likely draw the assignment of guarding Devin Booker. Harris is one of the better on-ball defenders, but he also hasn’t seen up-close how new head coach Igor Kokoskov will free up their top weapon.
If Ayton is unable to go, I’m predicting Booker is dropping 40 points on the Nuggets’ heads. More shots, especially three-pointers, will only open up the flood gates even more.
For Phoenix to surprise in Denver, they will need to continue momentum from Wednesday’s season opener where they played smart and effectively. That means continuing to put defenses into the blender. Early results have showed Kokoskov’s offense can be potent with the right reads being made, and that will have to become a trend for the Suns to upset the upper echelon of the Western Conference.
From a pure box score standpoint, keep monitoring assist-to-turnover ratio and three-point attempts. If those numbers are holding up strong, it likely indicates Phoenix is keeping the game close.
I’m assuming Ayton is playing, but if he doesn’t I see Denver winning by double-digits in this one. However, the Suns seemed to have the most fun in any game since I’ve been covering them. Energy was bouncing all around Talking Stick Resort Arena, and you could tell players like Booker were absolutely feeding off the home crowd energy (how it should be anyways for most games, Suns fans).
Booker, as we all know, loves the hostile road atmospheres though. He’s always tend to put up more points on the road than he does at home, but, either way, I’m expecting another huge scoring binge out of the Suns’ star tonight. I’ll make it bold, too, by saying 30 with Ayton but 40-plus if he is ruled out.
Expect another close game, but a loss in the end.
Nuggets 116, Suns 112