As the Phoenix Suns (3-2) got up shots and ran through the gameplan for tonight's game against the Denver Nuggets (1-3), two special guests decided to fly by. Literally. Two birds broke into the arena and were flying around.

One time they even got bold enough to fly low near the court and by the watching media contingent.

That was the highlight of practice today, but for more on the Suns and what happened today in practice here is the full Practice Report:

Goran Dragic Injury Update (...and more)

Both Goran Dragic and Coach Hornacek seemed positive about the injury recovery. It has only been four days, but after getting some shots up and running a lot (with varied speeds, stops, and motions) he is getting back to being Goran.

"It is probably not 100%, but he is a tough kid," Coach Hornacek said after practice. "Most likely if he is going I will probably start him."

This injury happened once before in pre-season as well, with an ironic return against the Denver Nuggets, the same team that is in town tonight. This injury is unrelated and Goran does not feel he came back too soon, "I was feeling fine, no pain."

What caused the injury? "New shoes. I did it twice (injured his ankle) in black shoes. I don't know if I don't know how to walk, but it didn't happen in the past so that is why I changed my shoes." New, white shoes in toe hopefully this is the last of ankle injuries. Come on Adidas, time for the Crazy Dragons!

Without Goran the Suns went 1-1 averaging 100 points per game and giving up 98.5 on the defensive end. In replacing Goran over the past two games Gerald Green has stepped up with 16.5 points per game making NINE total three-point shots.

...and more. Goran Dragic is expecting his first child in eight days, in that span the Suns play four games and he would be home for the birth in a perfect world before heading on the road to face the Sacramento Kings.

How is the Rookie Doing? Archie Goodwin

The last one off the court at today's shoot-a-round... Archie Goodwin. These are generally lite walkthroughs with points of emphasis on the game. No matter the context it was nice to see the rookie remain on the court as the coaching staff, players, and media all left, with a shooting coach or two hanging around to catch rebounds of course.

His shot is still a work in progress, but with the assistance of shooting coaches and assistants he is beginning to remove the hitch from his jumper.

It is also getting clearer and clearer when he is going to make a shot and when he reverts back to the inconsistent release with an aggressive hitch. The staff is getting the ball back over his head and not off to the side which is a positive as well.

For those that that Archie GODwin was going to come out this season and make an immediate impact as a Rookie of the Year candidate, that was a little premature, but he has progressed since Training Camp.

Strength and physicality is still a major concern for him as he transitions to the NBA. It is easy to describe Archie, he is an 18 year old. Physically, mentally, and all around, he is an 18 year old. That is not a bad thing, in fact it is a positive, and because that means all of his best moments are still to come.

Coach Hornacek's Corner Three's

The teams' performance without one of their captain's, Goran Dragic:

"When Goran went down I thought we were in big trouble, but I have always told our guys to be ready. You never know what is going to happen and guys stepped up. We feel we have guys across the board that if somebody does go down we can pick it up for them."

More Coach Hornacek on the team running enough:

"For me, unless we are scoring 140 we are not pushing it. I think sometimes we are settling. Some groups are running groups and with Channing (Frye), we still should be a running group, with him trailing the play. When Goran went out that seemed to slow it at least for the starting group."

On Markieff Morris playing more like a power forward lately:

"We always want our opposite big to roll to the basket. If you are setting a screen, roll to the basket, if you are the other guy work yourself down there so you can get offensive rebounds, put-backs, and that is when you get fouled. We need to get more free-throws. It is good to get three-pointers, but when we don't get those threes we have to get to the basket"

The 2014 NBA Draft Update

There is nothing locked in right now, but after each team has played ten or more games you can take this more seriously. The Suns own four potential first round picks through various sources and they are being looked after by three other teams at the moment. How are the surrogates doing?

Washington Wizards (1-3): T-No. 3 Overall With that the pick would remain in the Nation's Capital.

Minnesota Timberwolves (3-2): T-No. 19 Overall

Phoenix Suns (3-2): T-No. 19 Overall

Indiana Pacers (5-0): No. 30th Overall

This scenario gives the team three first round picks, none in the lottery, and most important -- none in the Top 2 of the 2014 NBA Draft. Check out NBA Draft Insider for more on the upcoming draft, profiles, rankings, and notes as the season progresses. Once the NBA has hit the collective 10 game mark then look for more individual prospect info on this section.

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The Phoenix Suns return home from a 3-game roadie to host the discombobulated Denver Nuggets, who are struggling to find themselves as a team with a new GM, new coach and new emphasis on playing style.

The opponent

I had a great email exchange with Nate Timmons, editor of SB Nations's DenverStiffs.com on the current state of the Nuggets.

Now that the Nuggets are 1-3, people are asking a lot of questions. The roster doesn't totally seem to fit the style yet, but Brian Shaw also isn't liking what he has seen. People think he doesn't want to run, but I spoke with him, at length, about how he does want to run and use the altitude to his team's advantage, but how he also wants a good half-court and defensive team. The word around Denver is "patience", but I'm not sure people are wanting to see the franchise continue on with the parallels to the Suns (who have spent years re-tooling and re-building).

For more on the Nuggets, including where they go from here, check out the whole interview.

In terms of injuries, it's important to know that Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler - two of their best wing players - have not played yet this season and won't play tonight either.

The Suns

Sure seems like the Suns and Nuggets have switched places this off season. While the Nuggets have fallen into disarray, the skies seem to have cleared for the Suns. Coming off a close loss to the Spurs in which they left the Spurs impressed, the Suns now have a chance to go 4-2 on the backs of their defense and opportunistic offense.

Somehow, the Suns defense is still 7th in the NBA despite allowing 15 4th-quarter points to Tony Parker, while their offense is good with fast breaks it's not a fast offense overall (still just 14th in pace, or number of possessions per game).

Goran Dragic and Alex Len are both still day-to-day with ankle issues, and would only be a boon if they play. Still, the Suns have played well without them this week, and should still be able to carry the torch if they miss another game.

The stats

Screen_shot_2013-11-08_at_8

What really stands out is that the Suns are much better at creating turnovers and playing defense, in general, while the Nuggets have been tremendous on three-point shooting. What's been a bear in the past has been 3-pt defense, but the Suns are now 9th in the league at defending 3-pt shots (32.6%), so that will be interesting to see.

The lineups

Screen_shot_2013-11-08_at_8

Only Ty Lawson plays big minutes for them. The Nuggets rotate a lot of guys through, and Andre Miller and Nate Robinson are just as likely to get burn on the wing as anyone else. In the front court, it's just as likely that Faried will start ahead of Hickson, or that Anthony Randolph will get more burn than Hamilton.

The key matchup

Clearly the key matchup is the point guard battle between young Eric Bledsoe and the guy he's trying to outplay to get a richer contract, Ty Lawson. Bledsoe is bigger, but otherwise Lawson is just as quick and strong with a bit better shooting stroke and three years of starting games in the playoffs under his belt.

Both guys stat lines are remarkably similar:

  • Lawson: 21 pts, 7.5 assists, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 42% FG, 42% 3s
  • Bledsoe: 21 pts, 7.2 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 steals, 50% FG, 26% 3s

The prediction

With Denver coming off an emotional, hard-fought win last night while the Suns came home yesterday to rest from an exhilarating roadie, it looks like the Suns will have the advantage in energy tonight.

Guessing the Suns win 103-95.

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Will the Suns beat the Nuggets tonight?

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Time: 7:00 pm MDT TV: FSAZ 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...

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The Phoenix Suns take on the Denver Nuggets tonight at US Airways Center in Phoenix. The Nuggets just won their first game of the season last night, a two-point win over Atlanta. In the off season, the Nuggets lost their GM, fired their coach and brought in a more traditional mindset - defense first, offense second.

Let's get to know the Nuggets through Nate Timmons, editor of SB Nation's Denver Stiffs.


Dave King: can't remember the last time a 57 win team completely changed their style to a more traditional one that neutered half the team's assets. Oh wait, yeah, the Suns did that 3 years ago. Worked out real well in Phoenix. I totally see why Denver followed suit. Do you see the same parallels or are the situations totally different?

Nate: I don't know all the ins-and-outs to the Suns situation from those incredibly fun teams from years back, but it sure has been a roller-coaster ride in Denver. I truly think that the Nuggets, in particular Josh Kroenke, wanted to keep Masai Ujiri and remain on the path that he was on. The fact they had a "handshake" deal with him in place after the Philadelphia 76ers came calling before the 2012-13 campaign and never put pen-to-paper after the fact left many in Nuggets Nation scratching their collective heads. The dismissal of George Karl may seem like a disaster to the outsiders, but many Nuggets fans were ready to see a new coach at the helm.

Now that the Nuggets are 1-3, people are asking a lot of questions. The roster doesn't totally seem to fit the style yet, but Brian Shaw also isn't liking what he has seen. People think he doesn't want to run, but I spoke with him, at length, about how he does want to run and use the altitude to his team's advantage, but how he also wants a good half-court and defensive team. The word around Denver is "patience", but I'm not sure people are wanting to see the franchise continue on with the parallels to the Suns (who have spent years re-tooling and re-building).

DK: is Kenneth Faried suddenly just "a guy" who will eventually join McGee on the bench/trade block?

Nate: I believe that in Shaw's system and with J.J. Hickson on the roster that Faried is best served being a bench big man. That's not to say he is just "a guy" in that role. He can continue to be very effective and a big asset off the bench, but he also has to show some improvement to his overall game. People love to see his high-flying alley-oop dunks and rebounds, but those plays often blind people to the fact that he also gave up a plethora of points to his man on the defensive end, or is constantly missing his assigmnet in the pick-and-roll defense. We all know he has to improve his shooting range, but he's still young enough to get there. We all want to know if he'll be traded as nobody on this roster is safe from that talk.

DK: Who is Denver's player of the future? Still Ty Lawson and Javale McGee (highest paid new contracts)? Or is it Evan Fournier?

Nate: I don't know if that guy is on the roster. The Nuggets appear to be in wait-and-see mode with this team. Many in the media suspect that we could see a very different team after the trade deadline - that might be when the front office feels it has ample time to make some decisions on this current roster. The McGee honeymoon is over; people want to see him play better, but many fear that with his asthma and his lack of attention to detail that he may be a high-priced bench player who is currently being outplayed by Timofey Mozgov (who looks pretty good thus far, in his own right). Fournier has struggled mightily, but he's still a youngster without much experience, as is Quincy Miller (who has yet to play a role with the team). Lawson is still the team's best player and he's also the team's best asset for a potential trade.

DK: How will Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler co-exist on this team, given what appears to be Shaw's desire for traditional positions?

Nate: That's a great question. Shaw has paid lip-service to wanting traditional positions, but he also has been using J.J. Hickson at center, Nate Robinson at shooting guard, and Andre Miller at small forward. Yes, Andre Miller at small forward. Shaw also has discussed playing Chandler at shooting guard, with Gallo at small forward or Darrell Arthur in his stead, as he plays very well with Gallo. Right now, Nuggets fans would take either guy to just be healthy and worry about all the other stuff later. Chandler has yet to appear in a preseason or regular season game and Gallo may not be back until late November, sometime in December, or really anyone's guess. Most national people say January or February with Gallo, but I think they failed to get the update that he suffered a partially torn ACL that did not require surgery.

---

There you have it folks. Straight from the horse's mouth up in Denver. For more game coverage, troll around BSotS for a preview, practice report, gamethread and recap throughout the day as the Suns try to go 4-2 on the season. We will also post a link of my own Q&A on the Suns for the Denver Stiffs website.

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After turning over most of the roster in the off season to a din of cheers from the fan base, the Phoenix Suns now face a difficult decision between building up or continuing the tear down.

The team on the court is playing better than expected, 3-2 entering tonight's game, and some key indicators suggest the Suns won't fade back into the West cellar any time soon. Their defensive scheme is solid, and their offense is difficult to defend. Yet, they don't have the star power to make a deep playoff run either.

Right back where they left off?

Hello, Worst Place in the NBA. Nice to see you again. Oh, our table in the corner is still reserved for us? Why thank you. Yes, it's been a year since we stopped by. We had a detour, but at least temporarily we're back. We'll take a Evian and a plate of mozzarella sticks to start. Do you mind if we slap this new logo onto the wall over our old one?

The Worst Place in the NBA is just good enough to draft outside the Top 10, but just bad enough to miss the playoffs. This rebuilt Suns roster was not supposed to sniff this region, but it sure looks like that's where we are headed.

No NBA team wants to win 30-40 games in a season. All you get for your troubles is a middling draft pick that promises another year of mediocre play. The Suns have been there the last several years with picks at the 14, 14, 13 and 12 spots from 2008-2012. Those picks led to a disappointing 2012-13 team that "earned" the #5 overall pick last June, but unfortunately it was a weak draft. Alex Len will be a good NBA player, but he's not a future superstar. No one available at #5 last June is a future superstar.

Tearing it down

When new GM Ryan McDonough took over this team, he saw what everyone else saw: the easiest path back to relevance was to build a loser in 2013-14 and try again for that high pick in the 2014 Draft. It's been billed as the best draft in a decade, with as many as half a dozen franchise-changers waiting to be snapped up. Everyone on the team embraced that goal, and four trades later the Suns were torn apart.

When all was done, the Suns entered the season without a single player who would start for most teams in the NBA. The Suns best returning player, Goran Dragic, wouldn't start on half the league's teams in a PG-rich league. The other starters - P.J. Tucker, Eric Bledsoe, Channing Frye, Miles Plumlee - never started full time for any NBA team before this season.

League wide sentiment was that the Suns were doing a very good job setting themselves up for failure.

Rising from ashes

But the coaching staff didn't get that memo, and neither did the players. A week into the season, the surprising Suns are 3-2 and quickly building a fan base falling head over heels for the scrappy players on this team. Nicknames are being developed and jerseys are soon to be flying off shelves.

What was once a waste land where turnover was hotly anticipated now becomes a minefield where Ryan McDonough and Lon Babby must tread lightly. Any trades with this team might be met with negative backlash.

The Suns want to simultaneously build a winning atmosphere while not stocking it with enough talent *yet* to win consistently until after the 2014 Draft. It's the Orlando Magic model from last year - get the kids playing right but still lose a ton of games.

But to where?

But what if that plan gets scuttled? What it they win consistently enough to ruin the 2014 Draft possibilities, but not enough to project playoff wins?

No one wants to be there, drafting 12th again. Sure the Suns have other draft picks in their back pocket - up to three more from 12-30 - but the better the draft the less likely the Suns can trade into a Top 10 pick using those assets. Nay, the Suns plan has their own pick in the Top 10.

On the flip side, if this team won't go away and keep winning games, do you go all in to improve the talent right now? Toronto tried to do that last year, acquiring Rudy Gay in January for playoff push that ultimately sputtered and cost the GM his job. Houston did it a year ago, acquiring James Harden to make a successful run. They never bottomed out in Houston and somehow have a contending team a year later.

But if you don't see that superstar available in trade, do you further tear down this team to ensure a top pick? How would a team this happy to be together, this "clean" of spirit, take to a trade of Goran Dragic for a future asset? Or Channing Frye?

That's the minefield. Any attempt to improve the talent or further tear it down would mess with the chemistry of the team, possibly in the negative direction. Chemistry is intangible. You can't control it. And now that the Suns have some good stuff brewing, you don't want to mess with it.

But if you don't make any changes, it's quite possible the Suns are looking at a handful of middling draft picks again.

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