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Game Preview: Suns hope to clinch top playoff seed in Denver

After an emphatic victory in Minneapolis, the Suns head to their final stop on their three-game road trip.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns
Deandre Ayton and the Suns tied up the season series with the Nuggets back on Nov. 20, a 126-97 blowout.
Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (59-14) @ Denver Nuggets (43-30)

When: 6:00 p.m. AZ Time

Where: Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado

Watch: NBATV, Bally Sports Arizona

Listen: 98.7 FM

Odds: At DraftKings, the Suns are the underdog for one of the few times all year: 3-point dogs - click the link if you think the Suns are going to pull this one out...


The Suns pushed their win streak to six last night in their victory over the surging Timberwolves, 125-116. After trailing for the first three quarters, Phoenix kicked into high gear in the fourth, posting 42 points in the final quarter. They grabbed the lead with 8:35 left to go and never looked back.

Deandre Ayton led the way with an emphatic 35 points and 14 rebounds, including 7 offensive boards. Devin Booker supported his big man well, with 28 points and 7 assists.

The Nuggets are coming off a strong victory at home over the Clippers on Tuesday, 127-115. The reigning MVP Nikola Jokić posted another ridiculous stat line in the win, with 30 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists, as well as snagging 2 steals and 3 blocks.

Jokić’s outstanding play all season long has kept his team in the middle of the playoff hunt without the likes of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. It has also kept Jokić in the frontline of this year’s MVP conversation as well.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Denver Nuggets
The ‘Big Honey’ will look to continue his efforts in defending his title as the league’s MVP.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Probable Starters

Update: Chris Paul will PLAY against Denver!

Our friend Flex called it two days ago in the way he always does when it comes to inside news on players on the roster.

Suns

  • PG - Cameron Payne
  • SG - Devin Booker
  • SF - Mikal Bridges
  • PF - Jae Crowder
  • C - Deandre Ayton

Out/Injured: Cam Johnson (thigh contusion), Frank Kaminsky (knee recovery), Chris Paul (thumb), Dario Saric (knee recovery)

Nuggets

  • PG - Monte Morris
  • SG - Will Barton
  • SF - Aaron Gordon
  • PF - Jeff Green
  • C - Nikola Jokić

Out/Injured: Vlatko Cancar (foot recovery), Zeke Nnaji (foot), Jamal Murray (knee recovery), Michael Porter Jr. (back recovery)

Keys to the Game

Suns

Ayton will certainly have his hands full with Jokić. He will need to work hard on both ends of the court and make Jokić work. Bismack Biyombo and JaVale McGee will be key to giving Ayton some relief defensively.

But the team as a whole will need to be locked in defensively to get this win. Suns’ coach Monty Williams will likely instruct his team to be fluid in their defensive approach, collapsing on Jokić on some possessions and leaving him 1-on-1 on other possessions.

Jokić will find holes and openings, he’s too smart and too talented to shut down completely. But a fluid scheme can prevent him from getting too comfortable and should keep Ayton out of foul trouble.

On the other side of the court, the Suns will need another All-Star performance from Booker, who has continued his stellar play since returning from COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Last night’s game was his 14th straight game with 20+ points and keeping that streak alive will be critical to the Suns' chances on the road.

Nuggets

Booker is probably going to find his points, but keeping him off the foul line is a necessity for a team with so few quality wing defenders. Austin Rivers will likely see major minutes with the starting lineup and could close the game to contain Booker.

But just as the Suns’ focus should be on preventing Jokić from finding his teammates, the Nuggets' defensive focus will need to be on the off-ball movement of the Suns’ role players. Even in the absence of the ‘Point God’, the Suns’ offense has continued to flourish. With Cam Payne at the helm of Williams’ offense, the Nuggets’ defense will need to show its commitment and discipline.

When it comes to the offense, it’s pretty simple: give the ball to Jokić and let him work his magic. With an average stat line of 26/13/8 on 57% from the field, and no one else averaging more than 15 points or 5 assists on the team, it’s pretty obvious what the offensive game plan for the Nuggets will be.

But of late, Monte Morris has been a key indicator for how the Nuggets’ will fare. Since the All-Star break, Denver is 7-1 in the games Morris scored 15+ points, but only 1-4 in the games Morris scored under 10 points.


Top Playoff Seed

The Suns can secure the top playoff seed with one more win, which gives them home court advantage throughout the playoffs all the way through the Finals.

A win tonight would give the Suns 60 for the season. Second-place Memphis can only get as high as 59 wins if they win out. No other NBA team can reach 60 wins in either conference, so the Suns would ensure themselves the top seed across all the playoffs,


Prediction

The second game of a back-to-back is always difficult to win. Even more so for a back-to-back on the road, and especially going from Minneapolis to Denver.

But this Suns team refuses to take games off and something tells me they will be looking forward to shutting down the league-MVP, who missed their last matchup with a sore wrist and has not played the Suns since winning the season-opener in Phoenix back in October.

Suns 120-112 Nuggets.

Again, DraftKings has the Suns an underdog in this one. Click here to put money down.

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