Preview: Phoenix Suns (12-16) at Denver Nuggets (16-12)

Denver Nuggets 109, Phoenix Suns 92



They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. Well the Denver Nuggets should be quite fond of Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov, and Nene when they host the Phoenix Suns on Valentine’s Day. The Nuggets will be without the trio because of various injuries. Gallinari, Denver’s leading scorer, will be out at least three more weeks with a severe ankle sprain. Mozgov is also suffering from an ankle injury. Nene is sitting out with a calf strain he picked up in Saturday’s game against the Pacers. The Suns will look to take advantage of the banged up Nuggets as they try to bounce back from a disappointing loss to the Golden State Warriors.

The Suns held a 12-point lead over the Warriors halfway through the third quarter of last night’s game, but were outscored 51-33 over the final 18 minutes. The loss ends Phoenix’s road winning streak at three games. The manner in which the Suns fell, running out to a big lead only to falter down the stretch, doesn’t bode well for the rest of their three games in three nights stretch. Phoenix’s intensity seemed to wane as Golden State’s ratcheted up, indicating the Suns were tired from playing their sixth road game of February. The Nuggets, on the other hand, should be well rested for tonight as they haven’t played since Saturday. Despite having a depleted roster, that much rest in this compacted season is enough to get any team right.

The Nuggets’ win over Indiana three days ago stopped a five-game losing streak that saw Denver fall from near the top of the Western Conference standings to seventh. Before this rash of injuries, Denver seemed to be a legitimate contender in the West. Tonight’s matchup with the Suns kicks off a stretch of 10 straight games against Western Conference opponents that will likely sort out Denver’s contender status.

The Suns are far from contenders this year and continue to struggle to get back to .500. This task will only get more difficult as they face probably playoff teams Denver, Atlanta, and the Los Angeles Lakers twice over the next four games. If they are to get the ‘W’ tonight, the key will be Marcin Gortat.

Coming off last night’s 25-point, 12-rebound performance, Marcin will need to have another strong outing against the Nuggets. Without Nene and Mozgov on the court, he will likely be matched up against Kosta Koufos, who is still adjusting to playing additional minutes for the Nuggets. Judging by how easily both Gortat and Channing Frye scored inside against strong low-post defenders Ekpe Udoh and Andris Biedrins last night in Oakland, Koufos, Al Harrington, and the Birdman himself should not give the Suns’ big men too much trouble inside. The Suns scored 50 points in the paint last night — one of their highest totals this season. They didn’t get the victory though in large part because of their struggles from outside. Phoenix connected on only 5 of 25 from downtown. Their long range accuracy will have to be better if they want to keep pace with the highest scoring team in the league.

Denver ranks first in the league with 103.9 points per game and 6th overall in points per 100 possessions. The loss of their leading scorer hasn’t slowed the Nuggets at all. They have averaged more than 100 points per game in Gallinari’s absence. The Suns will have to put in a strong defensive effort like they did against Sacramento on Saturday if they want to contain the explosive Nuggets.

Likely to carry the scoring load for Denver will be starting guards Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo and sixth man Al Harrington. Grant Hill has been shutting down opponents’ best scorers regularly throughout the year, but Lawson is likely too small and too quick for the 39-year-old Hill. Look for Nash to try and stay in front of the speedy third-year player from UNC with lots of help from Jared Dudley sagging off of Corey Brewer or Rudy Fernandez.

Despite being blown out by Denver twice in the preseason, the Suns have a strong chance for victory if they can focus on these things:

Suns’ Keys to Victory

  1. Keep Lawson under 30. If Nash is completely unable to stop him, look for Shannon Brown to get some time after a DNP-CD against Golden State last night.
  2. Pound the paint. Gortat, Frye, and Morris were able to score inside against the Warriors. They need to repeat their performance against the Nuggets’ depleted front line. Look for Phoenix to focus on getting the ball into the post for the second night in a row. Alvin Gentry will throw a healthy dose of both post isolation and pick-and-roll at Denver.
  3. Hit a three for crying out loud. In order to keep the defense from collapsing onto Gortat and the rest of the bigs in the post, the Suns will have to force Denver to honor their shooters by connecting early and often from downtown. If Phoenix submits another 20 percent performance, this game could really be ugly.

UPDATE: Nash, Hill out for Suns

Phoenix Suns veterans Steve Nash and Grant Hill will sit out tonight’s game with this being the middle contest of a three games in a row stretch. The Suns lost to the Nets at home the last time this duo missed a game.

Tags: Denver Nuggets Phoenix Suns Phoenix Suns Preview

  • shazam

    has michael redd had enough time for us to start evaluating him?…how has he done so far?..projections for the future?…im so biased i dont know anymore…please help with this one,,,anybody please…scott you around what are your thoughts?

  • Scott

    @shazam -

    Redd has offensive qualities very similar to Jason Richardson. He can score at the hoop, he can hit the 3, he can create his own offense, he’s a crunch time scorer, and he goes to the free throw line. However, he’s still getting his legs. The other Suns seemed to get their legs solidly under them only in the past two weeks. Since Redd started later than the rest, he’s still maybe a week away?

    Anyway, his production off the bench has been nothing to write home about. This could be partly due to the basic inefficiencies of the 2nd unit, but it could also be him still being a little sub par physically.

    In the last game, against Golden State, Redd had 9 points on 2 of 6 shooting, making none of his 3 pointers, but sinking all 5 of his free throws. Dudley played for twice the number of minutes and only produced 11 points, shooting 4 of 9, hitting only 1 of his 5 three point shots, and nailing both his free throws.

    If you look at that game, you might assume that Redd would be more productive than Dudley if he was A) playing with the starters, and B) playing more minutes.

    That could be the case. We won’t know for sure till Gentry decides to play Redd as a starter.

    I think Redd is clearly a starter, but the situation is complicated by Dudley insisting that he “came into the season with the idea of being a starter.” Yet, Redd may feel held back if he’s kept with the 2nd unit too long, and that would probably make the difference between whether or not he feels like signing with the Suns next year.

    IMO, Gentry needs to bring Redd into the starting lineup at the right time, and that should probably be at any point within the next two weeks. Any longer than that, and it’s probably starting to be too long.

  • Al

    Actually, Suns should really not take Al Harrington lightly. If he scores 20 or more the game will most likely go in favor of Denver. Let’s not forget that this is the same Denver (same roster) team that blew the Suns TWICE in two pre-season games. In my opinion Hill should be the first to come out of the game and put Redd at 2 and Dud at 3. Then start 2nd quarter with Redd and Childress as usual and Hill be the first starter back to help 2nd unit in defense. I also hope that Brown get some playing time this game. I was excited when Phoenix signed Brown, because I could always remember the couple of times he dunked on JRich’s grill.

  • Big Daddy

    Disgusting. Missing nash dearly. This teams got potential….just ronnie price running the 2nd unit doesn’t seem like its working. It’s time to start redd over dudley.

  • Scott

    The box score suggests that of the players who got time, only two Suns don’t need Nash to create their offense: Morris (21 points in 28:30 min) and Redd (20 points in 27:25).

    Worst +/- goes to Gortat with -17, and best goes to Lopez with +4.

    The Suns scored 17 of 19 at the line, which would be great, except the Nuggets scored 25 of 34 at the line.

    Gentry also appears to have a serious hate on Warrick, who only played three and a half minutes, and couldn’t even stay on the court in garbage time.

  • Cam

    Demoralizing loss, especially after fighting back to get into the game. Shannon Brown deserves that seat on the bench. Gentry would be better served letting players like Duds and Chilly, who have long term contracts, and Redd, who is letting the warlocks work their magic, play. Give time to players who will be here in the foreseeable future (if Redd continues to play like this I can see Sarver trying to get him on a two year deal with maybe a team option in there somewhere). Go Suns.