Phoenix Suns 110, Denver Nuggets 100 — Nightmare matchup no longer


PHOENIX — As the Phoenix Suns grew older the past two seasons, the lightning quick Denver Nuggets turned into a nightmare matchup for the team.

As such the Suns entered tonight’s contest against Denver having lost six in a row to the Nuggets by a combined 15.3 points per game dating back to November of 2010. The matchup was bad enough that the Suns were even blown out twice in the preseason last year.

However, with a younger and more athletic team this time around, these new-look Suns fought back from another early double-digit deficit to down the streaking Nuggets, 110-100, to win their third game in four tries.

“It’s a good win,” said Suns head coach Alvin Gentry. “We’ve obviously struggled with that team over the past couple of years, so to be able to get a win against them and be able to get a win at home was really important. I thought we played well. We had a lot of guys that stepped up and I thought did some good things.”

The Suns’ improvement against Denver starts defensively at the point guard spot, where Goran Dragic and Sebastian Telfair did a much better job containing Ty Lawson than Steve Nash ever did.

Lawson followed up a nice eight-point, six-assist first half with just four and two in 16:32 of a second half that the Suns won by 13 points.

After picking up two first-quarter fouls, Gentry went with Telfair the rest of the first half against Lawson (perhaps to prevent Dragic from picking up a third against the speedy guard) before waiting to re-insert Telfair into the lineup when Lawson entered with 7:31 remaining.

“It’s not only point guards, big guys did a great job,” Dragic said. “Every time he came out on a pick-and-roll the big guys were up, and he couldn’t penetrate or shoot the ball then. That’s a team defense.”

The next key was rebounding. A game after being manhandled on the glass by a margin of 15 caroms Saturday in Utah, the Suns stayed within three against the league’s No. 2 rebounding team, while yielding a mere nine offensive boards.

Kenneth Faried grabbed 11 rebounds, including four offensive, but the Suns largely neutralized Denver’s big advantage.

Finally, the Suns won despite being out shot 53.9 percent to 45.7 percent because they committed a season-low six turnovers (to Denver’s 15). Gentry always talks about how devastating live ball turnovers can be against a team like Denver, and the Suns just never let the Nuggets get out into transition off steals as they had only two. Three of the Suns’ turnovers and both steals came in the first quarter, and they coughed it up just once in the second half.

“We were putting bodies on their big guys and didn’t just look around,” Dragic said. “We tried to seal those big guys and the small guys, and we knew if we could control that and fast-break points that we were going to be in this game.”

That the Suns were despite another awful start. You almost wonder if the team needs to push forward the starts of home games by a half hour because their first quarters have been so bad in comparison to the rest of the game.

The Nuggets jumped out to a quick 16-6 lead in this one midway through the first before the Suns immediately stormed back with a 12-2 spurt to bring things back to even. Phoenix has now trailed by double digits in every game except the Charlotte win.

“I’m still trying to figure it out myself,” said Shannon Brown. “It’s just one of those things we have to fix. I can’t really pinpoint it, we’ve just got to fix it.”

Despite not playing the second quarter and only logging 31:26 overall, Dragic paced a balanced scoring effort with a team-high 21 points and seven assists that included a stellar 4-for-5 effort from distance. Overall seven Suns scored at least 12 points as Gentry shortened his bench in this one with an eight-man rotation plus eight minutes of P.J. Tucker with Jermaine O’Neal inactive once again.

The shortened rotation was aided greatly by Markieff Morris’ best game of the season by far. Morris entered the night averaged 6.1 and 4.1 on 30.5 percent shooting. He exited it by filling the box score with 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting to go with six boards, five assists and three steals while helping the Suns outscore the Nuggets by 24 points in his 25 minutes.

Perhaps it was the presence of Faried, a power forward drafted after Morris who has thus far been a much better pick, but whatever the reason the Suns finally got a lottery pick performance out of last year’s No. 13 pick.

“He came out aggressive, wasn’t really thinking too much,” Brown said. “I think he was just playing basketball. He let the game come to him.”

If the Suns get this Morris on a more consistent basis and if Brown can continue to scorch the nets as he did with another 19 points tonight (although on 16 shots), then perhaps the Suns’ bench can morph into a halfway decent unit.

The victory improved the Suns to 4-4, and considering the fact that the Nuggets entered winners of four straight, this must be considered the Suns’ best victory of the young season.

Phoenix will be tested plenty more in the coming week as the schedule stiffens with games against the Bulls, Lakers and Heat, but for tonight the Suns were pleased to take down a good team that has had their number of late.

“It’s always good to get off the schneid when a team is beating you consistently, just come out and let them know they can’t continue to beat up on us like that,” Brown said.

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  • Brown on his role on the team:I told Coach I’d do whatever he asks me to do. I do want to start, but if he needs me to come off the bench, whatever he needs me to do, I’m a team player. I’m not going to gripe about that or none of that stuff, I’m going to do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
  • The Suns have outscored the opposition 116-86 in their last two home second halves. … The Suns put seven players in double figures tonight for the first time all season. They did it four times all of last year. … Dragic is averaging 19.8 points, 7.3 assists and 2.0 steals per game at home. … The Suns are 3-0 when reaching the century mark. … Phoenix knocked down 7-of-12 shots from behind the arc. … Michael Beasley suffered through a rough 2-for-9 first quarter, but hit 5-of-6 shots thereafter. “I just wanted to be aggressive,” Beasley said.