The Denver Nuggets have defeated the Phoenix Suns five consecutive times, including margins of victory of 34, 19 and 17. In the last meeting between the teams two weeks ago, the Suns at least kept it close, but 16 turnovers led to 26 Nuggets points and Arron Afflalo torched the Suns for 30, including five converted 3-pointers, in a 105-99 Nuggets win that put a serious dent in the Suns playoff chances.
Five Suns wins and an emergence into the 8th spot in the Western Conference later and they face the Nuggets again, with three games remaining and the thinnest of margins for error. The Nuggets have owned the Suns recently, with their athleticism, depth and aggressive defense causing the Suns all kinds of problems. That simply has to end or, frankly, the Suns don't deserve to make the playoffs.
Keys will be crisp offensive execution, avoidance of turnovers and playing strong transition defense to slow down a Nuggets team which is the league's highest-scoring at 103.5PPG.
George Karl's Nuggets play fast, they take chances on defense to create turnovers, and they leave perimeter shooters open. Denver is 24th in the league in opponents' FG% and dead last in the league in opponents' 3-point %. They can certainly be scored upon but win shootouts since they hit an excellent .471 from the field themselves.
In the first two games of this season's series between the teams, Grant Hill and Steve Nash sat out the first in the middle game of a B2B2B, and the Nuggets smacked the Suns 109-92 in a fairly sloppy game in which the teams combined for 44 turnovers. Hill missed this month's game as well with a knee injury and the latest word from Alvin Gentry is that there is a "good chance" he'll pay today.
If Hill is able to go today and is healthy enough to move effectively, it would provide a needed boost to the Suns defense as he could shadow Nuggets scorers Danilo Gallinari or Afflalo.
Robin Lopez created quite a stir with his hard foul on Blake Griffin, leaving Clippers fans and players angry over his flagrant-2 take-down, but there is still no word from the league office on additional punishment for Lopez so he's expected to play today. Many NBA observers condemned Lopez for his actions but Lakers Pau Gasol explained earlier this month how Griffin tends to incite his opponents:
"When you make a great play, obviously there's a lot of emotions and I understand the excitement of it," Gasol said. "But at the same time, you have to be respectful too. Otherwise, you probably will instigate retaliation or a bad, violent reaction. So you have to be careful with that. But that's just me."
I, for one, was slack-jaw flabbergasted watching TNT's post-game and hearing Barkley rant about how the Clippers needed an enforcer to stand up to big, bad, intimidating teams. Who, the Suns? It's true, they are becoming a tougher team and players like Lopez, Sebastian Telfair, Jared "WHAT'S UP?" Dudley and rookie Markieff Morris aren't afraid to mix it up
The hard foul from Lopez, and Dudley getting in Griffin's face were more symbolic, though. Winning a tough, physical, crucial late-season game over a quality opponent was the real display of toughness. Well, Suns, the time to man up again is right now, fighting for your season against a team that's beaten you down every time since November of 2010.
From the Denver Post:
Nuggets coach George Karl in a No. 6 state of mind: "Anytime you play Phoenix, you have to control the engine, which is Steve Nash," Karl said. "Nash's quarterbacking, he's still great. I thought earlier in the year they were struggling with their personality, but they have figured themselves out. I think they are a team that's a lot like us — they have Nash as their stud — but they have a lot of good players and you've got to be ready for a lot of different personality."
Nuggets Danilo Gallinari staying "positive" through slump: In Gallinari's six games since returning from a broken thumb, the small forward has averaged only 10.8 points while shooting just 33.3 percent from the field. While still recovering from the fractured left thumb, Gallinari is playing through pain in his right wrist too."I fell down a couple of times in the Houston game and I hurt it, but it's getting better," Gallinari said after Thursday's practice. "It will be good."
From Denver Stiffs:
Nuggets at Suns: Controlling Steve Nash There sure isn't much left to say at this point in the season. The Nuggets will need to control the pick-and-roll game and minimize the damage by Marcin Gortat (14 points and 14 rebounds vs. the Clippers). The Nuggets haven't had issues scoring against the Suns this season, so stopping their offense is the obvious key to this one.
From AZ Central:
"I've just got to finish harder. At some point, when you feel really comfortable with the shooting and left hook and right hook from outside, then all of a sudden you're trying to be finesse. I just have got to finish that."
Gortat entered Thursday night's game with 47 dunks this season, ranking him 34th in league.