Tonight’s contest against the Denver Nuggets is a throwaway game for the Phoenix Suns.
Mind you, I’m not saying the Suns should play as if they don’t care about pulling out a victory. What I mean is that after three tense games that the Suns really needed to turn around their 12-18 stretch, Phoenix should go into this one all loosey goosey.
After all, what do they have to lose?
No matter what, this will already go down as a solid road trip, with the Suns picking up gritty wins against playoff contenders in Houston and New Orleans after losing 12 of 13 away from home. Suffice it to say, they’ve done what they needed to do, and a win on Friday in Sacramento is all that stands from making this a great trip.
But tonight the Suns face a Denver squad that’s 22-3 at home this season, making the Nuggets the second-best home team in the NBA next to the Lakers. After dominating their home floor last year as well, the Nuggets are now 55-11 in the Mile High City the past year and a half.
That’s in start contrast to Denver’s 11-12 road record in games in which the Nuggets score 101.0 ppg and give up 100.7. At home they score 112.5 and yield 102.4.
Furthermore, the home team has won 10 straight in this series, with Phoenix last winning in the Pepsi Center back on Dec. 5, 2007. Shawn Marion and Mike D were still around it was such a long time ago.
However, their last two meetings in Denver were decided by — ahem! — questionable officiating, a 105-99 Suns loss on Dec. 12 of this season when Steve Nash may or may not have been bumped on a potential game-tying foray to the hoop and a 119-113 overtime loss last January when Grant Hill was tripped on his way to a potential game-winning bucket in regulation that never was.
In that previous game this season, the Suns built up a 17-point lead in what was their first blown lead loss of many to come, following up on a 19-point lead they blew to Orlando the night before in a victory. In that contest hometown hero Lou Amundson sparked the Suns to a 19-2 second-quarter run in a career quarter that saw Lou go for eight points and nine boards.
This game should be a shootout with the Suns leading the league in offensive efficiency at 111.3 points per 100 and Denver third at 108.7.
That would be OK with the Suns, who have a major opportunity to win a game nobody expects them to win (there’s that theme again) in a brutal road environment. Taking this game to cap off a four-game winning streak would make quite a statement after the Suns were nearly left for dead this time last week.
This is the kind of situation in which the Suns thrive: when nobody expects anything of them and they can just go out and play ball.
Plus, even with all of the stats thrown out earlier about why the Suns have no business winning this game, keep this in mind:
Minnesota and Philadelphia, teams boasting a combined 27-69 mark, have snuck out of the Pepsi Center with wins this season.
ESPN’s John Hollinger rates the Suns’ schedule behind that of only Houston and Oklahoma City in difficulty. It’s too bad that those teams are also battling for bottom-tier West playoff spots, but that fact must be comforting to Suns fans nonetheless.