Time: 7 p.m. MST
TV: FSAZWhen the Phoenix Suns lost center Marcin Gortat to a foot sprain against the Toronto Raptors two games ago, the offense sputtered. To be fair, expecting a refurbished offensive gameplan to come midgame from a coaching staff that in its own way lost depth and continuity – when Alvin Gentry, Dan Majerle and Elston Turner left the team – would be much to ask for.
So to Lindsey Hunter and Igor Kokoskov’s credit, the next two games resulted in boosts in offensive production. The most recent outing, a 107-105 win against the Houston Rockets on Saturday, showed growth on both ends.
While nothing is consistent with a team vying for lottery picks, the Suns could use the same type of gameplan on Monday against the Denver Nuggets. George Karl’s team, like the Rockets, wants to run and it’s blitzed opponents for eight straight wins.
Phoenix handled Houston by getting in the passing lanes, using ball pressure with the surprising backline support from Hamed Haddadi and forcing turnovers. They’ll need to continue that against Denver, but instead of a spread out three-point happy offense – the Nuggets take 10 less three-pointers per game than the Rockets – the Nuggets will pose a challenge for the Suns with their speed and athleticism.
Most of that starts with point guard Ty Lawson, who has been on a tear of late. He’s coming of a season-best 32-point performance in a 111-88 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday, and he’s also the playmaker to break down defenses, especially in transition.
The pace will be something to watch, and causing havoc in the turnover department will be key for Phoenix once again. But capitalizing on those turnovers is what will put the Suns over the top. Easy buckets are one thing, but the Nuggets are also a decent defensive team, rankings No. 15 in the NBA in giving up 105.5 points per 100 possessions this season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
So the Suns’ offense that has been simplified, according to Hunter, must continue to produce as it has in the last two games.
Phoenix must deal with a number of fearsome matchups. Whereas they survived a James Harden explosion two days ago, the Nuggets pose problems a good 10 players deep. How will Wes Johnson deal with Olympian Andre Iguodala? Can Markieff Morris match Kenneth Faried’s energy? Will Dragic use his size to negate Lawson’s speed?
Even on the bench, Denver has the advantage. The limber JaVale McGee could see some success against Haddadi, and Dudley must be ready to match the explosiveness of the likes of Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer. And Kendall Marshall will be tested against either Lawson’s speed or Andre Miller’s point guard post-up game.
All in all, that’s to say the Nuggets are quietly hiding in the weeds amongst the NBA’s sub-elite. The task is tall for the Suns, but they’ve shown in recent games that when they put a complete game together, an injury- and talent-riddled roster can still hang.