Preview: Phoenix Suns (28-26) at Denver Nuggets (29-25)

Denver Nuggets 105, Phoenix Suns 99



If the Phoenix Suns plan on reaching the playoffs despite a brutal closing schedule, they must take care of the games against teams fighting with them for the final playoff spots in the West and then hang on against the contenders.

After gutting out a crucial win Wednesday in Utah, the Suns face another must-win game tonight against a Denver Nuggets team that leads them by one game for the eighth seed.

This is the kind of contest that could determine whether Phoenix secures a playoff spot or not. With the victory, not only would the Suns be tied for a postseason berth but they would be in position to take the tiebreaker over Denver as well with a win over the Nuggets on April 21 in US Airways Center.

Having already clinched the tiebreaker against Utah last night and with four teams separated by 1 1/2 games for the final two playoff spots in the West, it should come as no surprise if a tiebreaker ends up sending a team to the playoffs.

After their mojo seemed to be crushed with back-to-back tough losses to the Spurs and the Clippers, the Suns have rebounded nicely by winning three in a row to get themselves right back in the thick of the race.

The Suns have jumped from the mid-20s all the way up to 39.0 percent in John Hollinger’s Playoff Odds in the past few days, and a win tonight would make a playoff push that much more likely.

The Nuggets enter this one coming off as big a low as the Suns are on a high after stubbing their toe Wednesday night against the Western Conference’s worst team, the New Orleans Hornets. Just as the Suns have caught fire the Nuggets have cooled off, as they are just a .500 team in their past 14 games starting with a home loss to Cleveland on March 7.

We could be in for a shootout tonight as the Nuggets are known for their offense, boasting the league’s fourth-most efficient attack (105.3 points per 100) while playing a blistering tempo that ranks second in the NBA.

However, in these past 14 games Denver ranks just eighth in offensive rating and sixth to last in defensive rating, according to the NBA’s advanced stats tool, as a plethora of injuries and the loss of Nene to trade have really hurt them.

By contrast since the All-Star break the Suns boast the league’s fourth-most efficient offense and 15th-ranked defense, which makes it no surprise they have won 14 of 20 games after the break after winning just 14 of 34 to start the season behind the NBA’s 16th-best offense and 23rd-best defense.

The Nuggets are known for their quality depth, which has led them to the precipice of the playoffs without a real star. Ty Lawson is producing a superb year, leading the team with 15.9 points and 6.8 assists per game, and he’s joined by eight other Nuggets averaging better than nine points per game.

With this being the Suns’ third road game in four days, they will need to be sure not to force bad shots or commit live turnovers that lead to transition opportunities for a Denver team that crushes opponents with its speed, athleticism and depth, particularly on its home floor.

The Suns have put themselves in position to qualify for the playoffs with this 16-7 tear that has launched them into the logjam at the bottom of the West playoff picture.

Now they have a chance, but they must beat their fellow West playoff bubble teams to finish the job.

And 1

Injured Suns forward Grant Hill will join Tom Leander and Scott Williams for a portion of the broadcast tonight, according to producer Bob Adloch. It should be interesting to hear a current player’s perspective on his team, particularly someone as eloquent as Hill.

Statistical support for this story from

  • Scott

    I’m not sure I remember the last Suns / Nuggs game correctly, but if I do, the rebound battle is especially important, as is keeping the Nuggs out of the paint.

    Today’s game is one of the most important of the season, and the Suns have their back up against the wall. They need to win it.

  • steve

    I think more wins might do it, especially if tonight and April 21 are two of those 6. The Suns are in a fantastic position to make the playoffs. The road is difficult, however, they are in completely control of whether or not they make it because they are playing the teams they need to top. A lot of times, it doesn’t matter how much you win, you still can’t catch the teams ahead of you if they’re winning too.

    To say tonight’s game is the most important of the season so far is a slight understatement.

  • Zak

    Every game is important now but this one even more so because of the reasons Michael mentioned. Hopefully the Suns will be hot tonight because I suspect this game could be a shootout. The Nugs are a high scoring team that doesn’t play great defense (sound familiar?) but they DO rebound very well which could be the difference in the game.

  • JZ

    Win this one and get behinds kicked by LA tomorrow. Can live with that.

  • Scott

    BTW, I’ve been going through the early draft notes for players, and it seems like either the draft is still fairly unsettled or there’s a lot of immature talent out there this year. Only a handful of players seem mature and ready to go.

    I’d count the top four in the draft as Davis, Gilchrist, Robinson, and Beal. After that it begins to get murky.

    Maybe Sullinger, Henson, P. Jones, Drummond, Barnes, and after that, the players become more questionable, unlikely to ever be a starter.

    Of the rest, the only ones who seem to me likely to make it in the NBA as a role player or borderline starter are Marshall, Ross, Taylor, Harkless, maybe Moultrie, D. Lamb, Crowder, Lima (after a few years overseas), and Nedovic. Not sure who else.

    This is based off of reading on Draft Express. I look for b-ball IQ, motor, character, and ability to learn, in addition to native skill and athleticism.

    I don’t watch college basketball at all, so I could be surprised by some players. (Gordon Hayward, the #9 pick by Utah in 2010, for example, has really surprised me with his motor, athleticism, and skill set. He’s far better than I thought he’d be, kind of like a bigger Hornacek.) Likewise, I can be surprised by the dogged insistence of some teams on getting a particular not so good player, like Washington’s pick last year of Jan Vesely. (They should have taken Marcus Morris – a safe pick – or Biyombo, for potential, IMO.)

    Anyway, though we don’t know for sure where the Suns will pick at this point, who will be in the draft, and the draft deck will surely be reshuffled when new scouting reports come in … even so I’m thinking the Suns may not be able to pick an impact player from this draft. They might be better off trolling for talent in the FA/reject pile.

    Draft Express at this point has Austin Rivers landing around where the Suns might pick (I’m anticipating #15). I’m leery of any NBA player’s son, as I think there may be entitlement / partying issues along with general chronic immaturity. But if Marshall has already been picked by Utah (around #13), and if Rivers doesn’t go higher, he could be a pick for the Suns as a combo guard, with the idea of trading him to a young team if he looks like he’s going to need years to mature (if ever).

    To sum up my research on him, Rivers is an average defender who can become disinterested, but he has good wingspan (6′ 7″) for his height (6′ 4″), excellent handling, streaky shooting, shoots best off the dribble (hence expects to have the ball in his hands, like Shannon Brown and Michael Redd), has some ability to create but is afflicted by a tunnel vision that often sends him into the teeth of the defense. He’s more quick and crafty rather than strong or explosive.

    Any thoughts? I’ll be continuing to research the draft until draft day. :)

  • Scott

    If the Suns do take Rivers, and if Nate McMillan is available, McMillan might make a good assistant coach for any young Suns guards. The Suns struggle so much with Nash off the floor, having a special coach for that position might pay off.

  • Zak

    Sometimes it’s not just talent that determines how a draft pick will perform but how well he fits with the team that drafts him. For the Suns their pick should either be someone who best fits in with the present system – regardless of position – OR someone who fits in with their future vision of the team (ie – better defense and/or rebounding, a slower offensive pace, etc.).

    I think there are a lot more potential NBA starters in this draft than Scott. Not potential “stars” but good, solid starters… not right away but in a year or two for most of them. If the Suns wind up at the spot they are now in this year’s draft, I’d go with ESPN’s mock draft projection and take Sullinger if he’s not already taken. Although he’s called a PF he’s really more of a center even though he’s only 6′ 9″. Even if he never makes the transition from C to PF in the NBA he would make one hell of a backup C and could be a dominating 2nd team player which the Suns desperately need. And if he does work out at PF… all the better.

  • Scott

    @Zak -

    As time goes on, feel free to point out who you think will be good starters out of the draft.

    As for Sullinger, I agree he’d be a fine pick for the Suns. He’d fit at PF right along with Morris, with a game maybe reminiscent of Boozer. But my expectation is that the Suns won’t be in the lottery, and that Sullinger will be, so I don’t think the Suns will get him.

    I also see that Meyers Leonard has officially entered the draft, so he’d be another mid-first round pick who ought to stick in the league for at least a few years.

    Has Cody Zeller declared? He was my original Suns pick, as the younger of two brothers in the draft, but the last I’d heard he was going to go next year.

    If the Suns do pick a quality big in this draft, it might create an interesting logjam up front, and most likely an end to seeing Warrick at PF.

  • Zak

    It’s just my opinion, Scott… nothing else. If I were able to pick out potential NBA starters then I’d be employed by some NBA team as a scout, which I’m not… and I doubt anyone else who post anything on this MB is either. Landry Fields was a 2nd round pick who quickly turned into a a solid NBA starter. Because of the lockout many college players stayed out of the draft last year which makes this year’s draft deeper than usual. Not with potential NBA stars but with good, solid potential NBA players which I think can fill holes in many NBA teams even into the second round.

    There are, IMO, VERY few potential “Batmans” in this draft. There are also very few potential “Robins” in this draft. But there are a LOT of potential “Alfreds” in this draft… guys that are the 3rd option, guys that really impress you coming off the bench, guys who you don’t always notice because they just play a solid but unspectacular game.

    That’s what make this draft “deep” IMO.

  • Scott

    @Zak -

    Wouldn’t “Batgirl” come before Alfred? ;)