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Game Preview: Playoff rematch in The Valley as the Suns take on the reigning champion Denver Nuggets

The Phoenix Suns get their first shot at a rematch against the 2023 NBA Finals winner Denver Nuggets, who eliminated the Suns in the second round of last season’s playoffs.

NBA: Playoffs-Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

What: Phoenix Suns (11-7) vs. Denver Nuggets (13-6)

When: 8:00 p.m. AZ Time

Where: Footprint Center Phoenix, AZ

Watch: ESPN

Listen: 98.7 FM

CBS Sports Betting Line: Suns -2 O/U 226 Suns Moneyline -125


The Suns look to recover after their tough loss versus the Toronto Raptors against the world-champion Denver Nuggets on Friday night in The Valley. This will be a battle between the current 2nd and 5th-place Western Conference teams in what will surely be an entertaining affair.

In recent memory, the Suns have faced the Nuggets twice in post-season, with once being on the road to the Finals during the 2021 postseason, and the other being just this past year losing to Denver in six games in which the Nuggets eventually became champions. The star power will certainly be on display contingent on the health of Devin Booker. Regardless, Kevin Durant going up against The Joker and Jamal Murray will warrant plenty of attention.

The Nuggets go into this game coming off a three-game winning streak, after being officially eliminated from the In-Season Tournament in their loss to the Houston Rockets back on November 24th. Nikola Jokic is certainly not letting up being the frontrunner for the MVP this season yet again, leading the charge with an absurd 29.0 PTS, 13.2 REBS, and 9.2 ASTS while being 57.1% from the field.

They also welcome back All-Star point guard Jamal Murray, who missed 11 games due to an injured hamstring suffered against the Bulls earlier in the season. While not an efficient debut, Murray’s orchestral skill in leading the Nuggets is undeniable, acting as a true floor general complementing the Joker.

The Phoenix Suns on the other hand are coming off a bit of a rough outing against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday losing 112-105. For starters, Devin Booker (QUESTIONABLE) is back on the injury report after suffering a right ankle in the 3rd quarter. Book landed on Raptors’ guard Dennis Schroder’s foot when driving through the lane.

This will be something worth monitoring heading into tip-off, as Booker’s status for the game is still in the air. The Suns will sorely miss the superstar as he has been nothing short of stellar this season, especially as operating as a true point guard for the team. In the last 6 games against the Nuggets (all playoffs), Book has averaged 30.8 PTS, 7.8 ASTS, and 4.7 REBS.

This season, Booker has made the jump at playmaker with The Point God in the Bay. With a massive usage rate of 32.5%, Devin Booker has dished out 8.5 ASTS a game slotted in at starting point guard with the likes of Eric Gordon & Grayson Allen acting as combo guards in the lineup.

Phoenix’s loss in The North can be mainly attributed to the halt of three-point efficiency, with shooting a measly 7/26 from behind the arc. Luckily with the return of Grayson Allen to the lineup, shooting an electric 48% from three, this should aid the Suns in breaking the negative shooting performance.

In this nationally-televised matchup, the Suns will be able to test out (most of) their completely flipped roster against a group that has kept their core mostly together, only losing a major piece of the Finals Run in Bruce Brown when he signed a 2 yr./$45M contract with the Indiana Pacers this past summer.

It will be extremely interesting to see which Suns’ role players take the initiative to step up, especially with the real chance of Devin Booker missing the contest entirely due to injury.

Likely Starting Lineups

Suns

  • G Devin Booker (QUESTIONABLE)
  • G Grayson Allen
  • G Eric Gordon
  • F Kevin Durant (QUESTIONABLE)
  • C Jusuf Nurkic

Nuggets

  • G Jamal Murray
  • G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • F Michael Porter Jr.
  • F Aaron Gordon (QUESTIONABLE)
  • C Nikola Jokic

Injury Report

Phoenix:

  • Devin Booker - QUESTIONABLE (ankle)
  • Bradley Beal - OUT (Low Back Strain)
  • Damion Lee - OUT (right meniscus surgery)

Nuggets:

  • Peyton Watson - PROBABLE (illness)
  • Aaron Gordon - QUESTIONABLE (heel)
  • Jamal Murray - QUESTIONABLE (sprained right ankle)
  • Vlatko Cancar - OUT (left knee surgery)

Uniform Matchup

Courtesy of NBA LockerVision:

Team Stats Comparison

(per TeamRankings)

Phoenix:

  • Points/Game 116.4 (#7)
  • Opp Points/Game 113.2 (#17)
  • Avg Score Margin +3.3 (#10)
  • Opp Avg Score Margin -3.3 (#10)
  • Fastbreak Pts/Gm 10.4 (#30)
  • Opp Fastbreak Pts/Gm 13.3 (#10)
  • Pts in Paint/Gm 46.7 (#21)
  • Opp Pts in Paint/Gm 53.1 (#24)
  • Assists/Game 26.3 (#12)
  • Opp Assists/Game 24.8 (#9)
  • Total Rebounds/Gm 53.1 (#11)
  • Opp Total Rebounds/Gm 50.4 (#6)
  • Assists/FGM 0.645 (#9)
  • Opp Assists/FGM 0.596 (#6)

Denver:

  • Points/Game 114.2 (#13)
  • Opp Points/Game 109.7 (#8)
  • Avg Score Margin +4.4 (#7)
  • Opp Avg Score Margin -4.4 (#7)
  • Fastbreak Pts/Gm 12.2 (#23)
  • Opp Fastbreak Pts/Gm 13.2 (#9)
  • Pts in Paint/Gm 55.7 (#5)
  • Opp Pts in Paint/Gm 49.5 (#16)
  • Assists/Game 29.4 (#2)
  • Opp Assists/Game 24.9 (#11)
  • Total Rebounds/Gm 52.7 (#15)
  • Opp Total Rebounds/Gm 49.5 (#3)
  • Assists/FGM 0.669 (#3)
  • Opp Assists/FGM 0.617 (#13)
  • Assists/Turnover 2.254 (#1)
  • Opp Assists/Turnover 1.939 (#21)

What to Watch For

The Suns will have to play smart against this Nuggets team, as they have the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire league, and are 4th best in overall turnovers. They also are a very team-built squad that likes to spread the ball a ton by using their primary facilitators in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray to get to shooters such as MPJ and KCP. At the same time, Aaron Gordon lurks underneath the basket always seemingly ready to be a lob threat or a slasher off the baseline cut.

Suns need to counter by having effective wing defense courtesy of Keita Bates-Diop, Nassir Little, Josh Okogie, and whoever else lands in the rotation to throw the Nuggets off their rhythm. Jokic will end up winning the center matchup whether that is in a scoring, facilitating, or just ultimately overpowering so the goal is to limit foul trouble with Jusuf Nurkic and Drew Eubanks. A small-ball five lineup with KD could also be effective in drawing Jokic out of the paint where he is not as an efficient defender.

The Suns also have to take care of the ball, as they have far more success in games where they limit the number of turnovers and simultaneously points allowed off turnovers. The Nuggets are in the back half of the league in turnovers generated but are very capable of being in passing lanes and providing supporting rim protection.

Durant will most likely have to dominate touches in this one, meaning that the supporting cast will have to make their shots to stay afloat against the Nuggets' fluid offense. Having Grayson Allen will be a huge plus, but positive shooting performances from Eric Gordon who has been huge as a tertiary scoring option and veteran presence for the Suns this season would be a necessary boost. An efficient night from Jordan Goodwin, who has solidified his spot in the rotation after demonstrating shot-making ability in the last couple of weeks, and a combo of Josh Okogie and Nassir Little will give a much-needed edge as well

The ultimate goal should be to throw the Nuggets off their patented rhythm by playing fast. Therefore, being active in passing lanes and asserting high on-ball pressure should be a priority to wear out playmakers including Murray and Reggie Jackson who started in Murray’s place while he was dealing with an injury.

Mitigating paint points will also be a battle with Gordon, Joker, and even former Lob City member Deandre Jordan showing some spring with his multi-lob effort against his former squad.

Prediction

The Suns will have a true test on their hand, especially without their captain Devin Booker in the event he does not suit up. Still, there is no discounting that the home-court advantage in The Valley in front of a sold-out crowd will bring much-needed energy to a team coming off a tough loss in Toronto.

A vintage KD performance is in the works, but I am expecting EG and Grayson Allen to have positive impacts against their perimeter matchups. Nurkic against his former draftmate/teammate is a bit of a toss-up in terms of how effective he can be at playing The Joker’s own game seemingly, but if he can slow down the reigning MVP at least slightly then that is a major win for the Suns.

My prediction is this game comes down to the last shot for either team, and for the sake of this argument and speaking it into existence, Eric Gordon nails a three from the parking lot to seal the game from the (let’s be super specific) right wing.

Suns 117, Nuggets 115

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