Tonight the 28-26 Phoenix Suns, who currently occupy the 9th spot in the Western Conference, will take on the 29-25 Denver Nuggets, currently occupying the 8th and final seed in the NBA's Western Conference playoff race. If the Suns can win tonight in Denver, and receive a little help from Houston by losing to the Los Angeles Lakers tonight as well, then Phoenix will move into a three-way tie with the Nuggets and Rockets for the 8th seed.
The Suns have been on a hot streak lately in their push for playoff contention, winning their last three consecutive games and 16 of their last 23 in all. The Nuggets on the other hand have been playing a bit less stellar lately, but that's in large part due to a seven-game road trip which they just ended on Wednesday with a loss to New Orleans to go 4-3 over that stretch.
With only 12 games left including tonight's, there simply isn't much room for error for the Suns. I won't go so far as to call this game a "must win", but it's certainly a high stakes game that could either propel them into the heart of the playoff hunt, or set them back significantly. After a huge win against the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night, a win tonight against the Nuggets would give the Suns a huge boost to both their playoff chances as well as their confidence in themselves and their team as a whole.
Do the Suns have what it takes to get a big win in Denver tonight? Read on after the jump for a breakdown of what to expect in tonight's match-up.
Here's a look at the Nuggets:
As you can see, the Nuggets are a fairly well-balanced team who like the Suns lack a real go-to scorer, but who have many viable options and contributors who can potentially catch fire on any given night and carry their team. But unlike the Suns, their most prolific scorer is also their point guard, Ty Lawson, who is as quick as they come at beating the defense and driving to the basket, but who also does a good job of distributing the ball to his teammates around him. Other than Lawson, the Nuggets can count on Afflalo, McGee, Harrington, Chandler, Faried, Miller, and Brewer to help them by playing significant minutes, and making meaningful contributions on a nightly basis.
Suns: Out - Grant Hill (Knee)
Nuggets: Out - Danilo Gallinari (broken thumb), Rudy Fernandez (back); Questionable - Wilson Chandler (groin)
Steve Nash vs. Ty Lawson - Ty Lawson is like lightning in a bottle with his 5'10" strong frame and super fast speed. Lawson can use his small yet powerful and fast physique to power into the lane, or to create space and shoot from outside. He is also a skilled passer with good court vision who often creates passing opportunities by driving the lane. However, Steve Nash is still playing at arguably the highest level of any true point guard in the league, and continues to lead the league in both assists and also in field goal percentage among guards. (Advantage - Suns)
Shannon Brown vs. Aaron Afflalo - In the absence of Grant Hill, Shannon Brown will likely be given the task of stopping Aaron Afflalo, the Nugget's most potent scoring wing. Afflalo is averaging more than 14 points per game on a team who shares the ball and scoring responsibility as well as anyone, and stopping him will likely be one of the main focuses of the Suns' defense tonight. Shannon Brown will need to play well defensively, but one of the best ways he can limit Afflalo's effectiveness is by making him work hard on the other end of the court. Brown will need to play smart and effective on both ends of the floor tonight, something he struggles to do at times. (Advantage - Nuggets)
Channing Frye vs. Kenneth Faried - This will be one of the more intriguing match-ups of tonight's games. With Gallinari out due to an injury, Faried will get the start and he has been playing extremely well for Denver, averaging around 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block over the last five games. Frye on the other hand had a relatively slow start to the season, but has since come on strong on both ends of the floor. Frye is starting to play like more of a big man lately instead of just standing on the 3 point line on offense, and over the last five games he has averaged 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. This will be a match-up to keep an eye on tonight as both players have the potential to make a significant impact for their respective teams. However, I have to give Frye the edge here with his better overall game and experience (Advantage - Suns)
Marcin Gortat vs JaVale McGee - McGee is often criticized for his bizarre plays and questionable decision making at times, but he has given the Nuggets tremendous size, length, and athleticism in the post after trading away Nene and his hefty contract in order to acquire him. McGee is a legit 7-footer with a ridiculous 7'6" wingspan and great hops to go with it. McGee's biggest downside is what's lacking between his ears, making mistakes and poor judgements that often nullify many of the things he does so well. Gortat on the other hand is almost the opposite. While he is also a legit 7-footer, he isn't in the same league as McGee in terms of his physical gifts or raw athleticism. Instead, Gortat has a great understanding of the game and has worked hard to improve his footwork and post skills to maximize his extremely agile and mobile frame. Gortat has proven to be a much more consistent and efficient player overall, and I believe he should gain the upper hand on McGee in tonight's match-up. (Advantage - Suns)
Suns Bench vs. Nuggets Bench - In my opinion, this could be the biggest key to the game tonight with both teams having a very deep bench that is crucial their success. The Suns' bench has really come on strong lately due in large part to the play of Robin Lopez, Michael Redd, and Sebastian Telfair...while also getting meaningful contributions from Josh Childress and Markieff Morris as well. However, the Nuggets bench also brings both talent and experience behind Al Harrington, Andre Miller, Wilson Chandler (questionable), Kosta Koufus, Chris Anderson, and Timofey Mozgov. Assuming all of the players listed above play tonight, I have to give the edge here to Denver based mostly on their more experienced point guard play. However, if the Suns bench comes out hot this could certainly go the other way. (Advantage - Nuggets)
Regardless of the outcome, tonight's game will have huge playoff implications for both teams. Denver is in the position to hold serve against the surging Suns at home tonight, retain their spot as the 8th seed, and create some distance between themselves and both the Suns and the Jazz who are hot on their trail. However, if the Suns can pull off another big win tonight on the road against a fellow Western Conference opponent, they will significantly improve their chances of making the playoffs and could actually move into a tie for the 8th seed depending on the outcome of the Rockets/Lakers game.
Will the Suns have what it takes to make this final push for the post season?
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