When: Friday Night, 6:00 PM
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
No, you didn’t dream it. You’re awake, and Deandre Ayton is still set to serve a 25-game suspension.
Regardless of how you feel about that news or whether the NBPA will successfully get a reduction, the Suns will need to move on without Ayton for now.
And that’s gonna be tough. Ayton is far and away the team’s best rebounder, post presence, and pick-and-roll finisher. The Suns need to find a way to replace that frontcourt production with some questionable pieces.
On the one hand, Aron Baynes started 67 games for a 55-win team just two years ago. This is where his veteran experience will prove to be valuable as he can be expected to log much heavier minutes.
Frank Kaminsky, too, is more of a natural 5 than a 4 and now we’re going to see that in action. But neither Kaminsky nor Baynes can navigate the pick-and-roll like Ayton can both in the halfcourt AND in transition. Chieck Diallo is a springy, athletic big that might be capable of some rim running, but I doubt Suns fans are encouraged by the prospect of him logging heavy minutes.
Overall, a lot of the load is going to fall into Booker’s hands...again. And with no good pick-and-roll finishing threat to take some pressure off him, expect a lot of traps and double teams for Booker coming around screens.
Suns: Rubio - Booker - Oubre - Saric - Baynes
Nuggets: Murray - Harris - Barton - Millsap - Jokic
Out or Injured
Suns: Deandre Ayton (serving suspension), Ty Jerome (right ankle sprain), Cam Johnson (left calf soreness)
Nuggets: Bol Bol (foot)
Scoring: Booker (Suns), Jokic (Nuggets)
Assists: Rubio (Suns), Murray (Nuggets)
Rebounds: Ayton (Suns), Jokic (Nuggets)
In addition to Denver being a legitimately good basketball team, here’s your reminder that their home court advantage is the best in all of the four major professional sports. Historically the Nuggets have had close to a 66 percent chance of beating an “equal caliber” team at home thanks to that altitude, and the Suns right now are not equal caliber.
Denver made quick work of Portland in game one, winning 108-100 behind a 56% three-point shooting night as a team. Jokic had 20 points and 13 rebounds but only two assists. Seven different Nuggets players hit at least two threes, so don’t be surprised if they try to engage in a shootout with Phoenix tonight.
As I said before, Aron Baynes is a veteran with plenty of starting experience. That doesn’t make it easy to go up against arguably the NBA’s top Center in Nikola Jokic, who can back you down, shoot over you, or fling passes right by you to cutting teammates.
And if Jokic plays 30+ minutes, there’s the question of who comes after Baynes in the depth chart. Can Frank Kaminsky reasonably be trusted to guard Jokic for even small stretches, or will it be a massacre? This is just an insanely tough matchup for the Suns’ first game without Ayton.
I’d like to believe that Rubio and Booker continue to penetrate like they did in game one, and that will allow them to outplay the Nuggets’ backcourt of Murray and Harris. Maybe Saric and Kaminsky will even hit their open threes this game, and that’ll keep it from being a blowout. But let’s just say I have low expectations.
Sam’s prediction: Nuggets 116 - Suns 102
Do the Suns win tonight?
This poll is closed