In a game between two teams that in recent years have been the speed burners of the NBA, poor shooting has so far been the lingering problem for each. Monday night’s game between the Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns in US Airways Center will be about which team can find its shooting touch.
Neither team is shooting above 43 percent on the season, meaning defense has been the thing both the Suns and Nuggets are hanging their hats on. The problem for the Suns is that they sit 27th in both points per game allowed and Basketball-Reference.com’s defensive rating.
If the Suns insist on riding their defense until the shots begin to fall, then their 3-4 record might be a blessing considering they’ve been so inconsistent. While the numbers show they’re flat-out bad defensively, the hope lies in playing well for a full 48 minutes.
Phoenix is giving up a league-high 28.7 points per game in the first quarters of games through its first seven, and that has much to do with the losing.
Take Saturday’s Jazz game for example, when the Suns gave up 29 and 27 in the first and third quarters, respectively, yet held the Jazz to 21 and 17 in the second and fourth. Go back to Cleveland, where Phoenix allowed 37 first-quarter points to the Cavaliers and regrouped by holding them to 21 and 22 in the third and fourth quarters.
Denver has been a much better defensive team as they’ve struggled to adjust to a slightly reconfigured roster with the addition of Andre Iguodala.
After losing their first three games, the Nuggets have reeled off four wins in a row. Defense has helped, and the Nuggets have a top-10 defensive rating thanks to an energetic front line that rotates Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee.
The Suns will have their work cut out for them in a game against the second-best rebounding team in the league — not a good thing for a Phoenix club needing second opportunities to cash in considering the shooting woes.
Three keys for the Phoenix Suns
Identify the hot hand. The Nuggets have been whittled into an eight-man rotation. The starting lineup of Ty Lawson, Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Kosta Koufos is joined by Corey Brewer, Andre Miller and JaVale McGee off the bench. That still leaves guys like Wilson Chandler, Timofey Mozgov and Anthony Randolph on the outside looking in. Any one player has the talent to go off, and Phoenix must keep a well-balanced roster just that. If one player goes for 20, the Suns will be in trouble.
Adjust or attack. Whereas Phoenix has more size in the paint to Denver’s speed, Alvin Gentry must decide whether to make it an advantage or to go with better matchups. If the Suns are going to give up the speed aspect, then they must give Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola touches to negate the Nuggets’ advantage.
Control Lawson. Goran Dragic’s defense is something else to consider against the size-challenged Lawson. If Dragic can stay in front of the speedy 5-foot-11 guard, maybe enough where his length bothers the former Tar Heel, then the offensive rhythm might be disrupted enough where Denver can’t find the bottom of the net.
If you’ve stayed away from the Internet completely and first stopped off here, we thank you. And if that’s the case, it’s also worth mentioning that former Phoenix Suns head coach Mike D’Antoni was hired by the Los Angeles Lakers early Monday morning instead of Phil Jackson.
Now, Los Angeles could be ready to run out a dream team with more than one piece of the old Phoenix Suns team on it. If the Lakers recover from an ugly start, it now stands as an opportunity for validation that the SSOL offense, or something similar, can win a championship. That could be something even more painful than never knowing at all for Suns fans.
Personally, it’s pretty intriguing to think about. D’Antoni is a coach who can get the best out of a roster full of stars, and he has relationships and respect from Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant. About the only thing that is a question mark coming in his rocky relationship with former New York Knick Jordan Hill — in other words, there’s not a whole lot wrong with the hire unless you wanted Jackson to return.