Preview: Denver Nuggets (20-19) vs. Phoenix Suns (22-17)

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Time: 6 p.m. MST

TV: FSA

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For the second time in three nights, the Phoenix Suns will be attempting to climb back up the Western Conference ladder with a team within reach of them pulling them back down.

A 110-107 loss to the Dallas Mavericks came down to a final shot by P.J. Tucker that was a point short and missed anyway, but the Suns would obviously rather avoid that situation altogether Sunday against the Denver Nuggets at home.

It would help the Suns don’t go through any more of those curious lapses on either end of the court.

Jeff Hornacek’s team failed Friday by getting Dirk Nowitzki and company going to the tune of 36 first-quarter points as the Mavs shot 58 percent from the floor. Phoenix then tried to play hero ball in the second half rather than continue to attack the rim. A lapse bridging the third and fourth quarters involved a 5-minute span where the Suns launched eight three-pointers and got away from their attacking that had got them back in the game.

Goran Dragic has said that it’d have been a different story if just one three went down. Seemingly, the Suns are simply due to shoot themselves out of a funk. P.J. Tucker thinks it always comes back to the defense. And Ish Smith on Saturday phrased it that Phoenix needs to play angry.

Any of those is true.

Phoenix holds a -0.1 point differential through nine January games, and now the trick is to avoid the one-possession games.

Which Nuggets team shows up?

On Dec. 20, Denver hosted Phoenix and opened up a 21-point lead before blowing it in a 103-99 loss. It was the team’s second loss in a row and part of what would become a seven-game skid that required a team meeting and a jettisoning of point guard Andre Miller to set things straight.

Brian Shaw’s team has since won six of eight games, though the two losses — Denver has dropped games to Utah and Cleveland but beat Golden State — have come in the last three games as the Nuggets have wavered on the defensive end.

Who are the second and third scoring options for Phoenix?

Goran Dragic is obviously Plan A, but Leandro Barbosa could return from his shoulder injury that’s kept him out of the last two games. Channing Frye has struggled from three-point range of late and against the Mavs couldn’t even get good looks.

Gerald Green should again see some touches in the post against a small Nuggets team that runs out Ty Lawson, Nate Robinson, Randy Foye and Evan Fournier.

After the loss to the Mavs, Hornacek also called forward Markieff Morris the second option, and he’s preached that Phoenix needs the inside-out presence. Even if Morris is still a little thin for a power forward, it’s clear he’s much more effective posting up and taking 10-foot fadeaways rather than facing up and taking 18-footers. Best yet, against Dallas he showed perhaps one of his most technically impressive moves of his career when spinning quickly past Brandan Wright and finishing with his left hand.

Morris has history against the Nuggets and earlier this year led Phoenix with 25 points in the comeback win at Denver.

How does Dragic and Co. handle Ty Lawson?

If you’re into talking about All-Star snubs, probably throw Ty Lawson just behind or with Dragic in the debate. He’s having a down shooting year, but he’s the heartbeat of a team that is a playoff contender and, like Phoenix without Bledsoe, lacks another star. Now, do I think either will make the All-Star team? No. There just aren’t enough backcourt or reserve spots available for them to make it. Do they deserve an All-Star spot? Yes. Both players are that good.

Despite their respective mismatches, Dragic and Lawson had relatively quiet games last time out. Dragic had 17 points and six assists, while Lawson scored 13 to go with seven dimes.

The Suns would hope Lawson doesn’t catch wind of that tape of Mavs rookie Shane Larkin cutting up Dragic and the Suns defense on Friday, however.

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