Time: 7:00 pm MDT
Tonight the Suns return home to Phoenix after a hard fought three game road trip. They face a Denver Nuggets team which, four games into the season, looks like a shadow of its former self. Last year, the Nuggets were one of the toughest teams in the Western Conference and nearly unbeatable at home. This year, they are 1-3 and have already dropped two games at the Pepsi Center. Andre Iguodala is gone. Danilo Gallinari is still hurt. And Coach of the Year George Karl is probably laughing to himself in a mansion somewhere. The Nuggets ran Phoenix out of the gym several times last season, but this year, they look like a team the Suns can and should beat. Here are the three big questions to be addressed in this game.
Can the Suns’ defense get back on track after the hiccup against the Spurs?
One of the big surprises in this short season has been the Suns’ defense. Heading into tonight’s game they rank seventh in Defensive Efficiency and sixth in point allowed per game. Phoenix has held every opponent they’ve faced, save the Spurs, to under 44% shooting from the field. The Nuggets have only surpassed that percentage once, in their win last night over the visiting Hawks. If the Suns can defend Denver into a poor shooting night from the field, Phoenix should have a great shot to win.
Which team will have the advantage from downtown?
The Suns and Nuggets are 10th and 11th respectively in made threes per game. The Suns, thanks primarily to Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker, are shooting a very respectable 35% from downtown. The Nuggets, however, are currently connecting on a whopping 44.2% of their three point attempts. This will have to be a big point of emphasis for the Suns’ defense. Denver has four excellent shooters in Ty Lawson, Randy Foye, Jordan Hamilton, and Nate Robinson, each of whom is capable of knocking down multiple triples in a game. To win the battle from deep, Phoenix will need excellent perimeter defense and communication from both their first and second units tonight.
Welcome to the Thunderdome: Which point guard tag team will come out on top?
Solely for the purposes of this preview, I’m giving Eric Bledsoe and Ish Smith wrestler names. For Ish, I’ll go with Flash McGrath because he’s speedy and it’s best not to overthink wrestler names. For Bledsoe, I’m going with an ironic name like Smiley, because I’ve never seen the man smile and I’ve always been fuzzy on the definition of irony. So tonight in the Tag Team Battle Royale, we’ve got Smiley and Flash versus Ty “Don’t Call Me Beanie Baby” Lawson and KryptoNate. The guest referee will be Triple H. I’m sure there won’t be any shenanigans.
This question is a bit of a cheat because it’s really two questions wrapped into one. But nevertheless, this game will be decided by which point guards play better. Lawson has been carrying Denver on his back through four games averaging 21 points and 7.5 assists per game. Likewise, Bledsoe has been a revelation so far, especially since Goran Dragic went down. Ish Smith has been a great change of pace guard and has really spurred the second unit in the Suns’ last two games. And Nate Robinson is the most unpredictable player in the NBA. Some nights he will hit the court and miss his first ten shots. Other nights he leads his team to playoff wins. There’s no way to know which Nate will show up, but the Suns will have to be ready for both.
Tony Parker taught Bledsoe a lesson in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s loss. Lawson is an equally fast, equally gifted scorer. Bledsoe will have to be a very quick learner if he wants to come out on top tonight. The key to defending Lawson is to be physical with him when he gives the ball up and make it hard for him to get it back. Otherwise, Bledsoe just has to try and stay in front of him as much as possible. Offensively, Eric has the size and strength advantage. Look for him to run pick and roll with Miles Plumlee to draw JaVale McGee away from the hoop and penetrate to the cup.