When: 7:00 p.m. AZ
Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena
Watch: Fox Sports Arizona
Listen: 98.7 FM
Suns - Ricky Rubio, Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton
Nuggets - Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Torrey Craig, Nikola Jokic
OffRtg = 111.4 (10th), DefRtg = 107.5 (9th), NetRtg = plus-3.9 (9th)
Flying way under the radar right now thanks to both LA squads, the Denver Nuggets are gaining steam like they did this time last season. Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray are lethal in the pick-and-pop, plus their role players are fitting like a glove alongside their pass-happy big man.
What was surprising, though, was to see Denver active at the trade deadline. Shipping off upcoming restricted free agent Malik Beasley to Minnesota as part of the D’Angelo Russell and Andrew Wiggins trade, the Nuggets decided his value would be too high to bring him back this summer. Sacrificing some bench help from Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez is risky, but Denver is one of the deepest teams in the Association.
Where would Denver currently rank in the Western Conference hierarchy? Just like the standings say, I think the Nuggets slide in well as the third-best team in the West behind the Lakers and Clippers. Being only three games back of the No. 1 seed, there’s still a chance Denver has home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Betting against Jokic, who I predicted as my preseason MVP favorite, would be bad business. I think this Nuggets team has a good shot to make some noise in April and May.
OffRtg = 110.0 (16th), DefRtg = 110.4 (T17th), NetRtg = minus-0.4 (14th)
After his career-best game on Friday night, the Suns section has to kick off with Kelly Oubre Jr. 39 points for the former Kansas Jayhawk on super good efficiency helped propel Phoenix to a blowout win over the Houston Rockets. This season, Oubre is averaging 19.2 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 36.8% on 3s. That to me looks like a player who can fit in well long-term as the third option to Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.
Even though Oubre was mentioned in trade rumors leading up to Thursday’s deadline, I find it hard to imagine James Jones would actually be selling off on his starting small forward. If it were interested teams trying to pry Oubre out of Phoenix, Orlando was mentioned as one of the most aggressive, then that makes a lot more sense. Responding to trade rumors with back-to-back 30-point games is how you quiet that thought.
Right now, Oubre is earning himself some heavy coin for the 2021 offseason. If the Suns don’t decide to extend Oubre a year early, he has the chance to make well over $20 million per year if teams strike out on stars next summer. Only 24-years-old, Oubre isn’t near his prime. If his December and January stretch shows us anything, it’s that there’s more upside to tap into from the energetic wing.
Oubre has turned into the 1B for Booker’s 1A more often throughout the season, but that doesn’t mean the Suns’ $158 million man needs much help with the way he’s playing.
Putting up 33 points in three quarters on Friday night, Booker is very much in a groove right now. Booker is averaging 26.9 points and 6.3 assists on 50.7/36.6/91.8 shooting splits. Simply put, that’s elite efficiency that Booker has displayed throughout the 2019-20 campaign. It’s still stunning Booker was snubbed from the All-Star game when he’s putting up these numbers on a nightly basis.
Arguably the most important Suns player over the next calendar year to follow is Ayton. The 21-year-old Bahamian big has averaged 18.3 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game this season. If the Suns want to become a sustainable contender throughout the 2020s, it all falls on the shoulders of Ayton. Phoenix’s starting center needs to develop into a star in order for this rebuild to pay full dividends.
On the second night of a back-to-back against one of the Western Conference’s best, that’s a tall task for this Suns squad. I’m expecting Denver to storm out to an early lead, but, in typical Suns fashion, I’m expecting them to claw back into this one late.
In a game I expect the Nuggets to lead by double-digits throughout, Phoenix will stick around until late in the fourth quarter.
Phoenix has always had trouble containing Jamal Murray, so expect another high-powered showdown between two former Kentucky Wildcats. Booker scores more points, but Murray’s team wins in the end.
Nuggets 112, Suns 104