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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.