It took full effort and a complete performance for the Phoenix Suns to defeat the Denver Nuggets at home on Monday night. Goran Dragic led the way with clutch shooting and strong defense in the fourth quarter.
When: Monday, November 12, 2012, 7:00 PM local time (9:00 EST)
Where: US Airways Center, Phoenix, AZ
Watch/Listen: TV: FSAZ, Radio: 620 KTAR
Preseason - Suns defeated Nuggets 88-72 @ US Airways Center on October 26, 2012
Denver Nuggets 4-3
Points per game: 99.0 (8th) Points allowed: 96.3 (17th)
The major acquisition for the Nuggets this offseason was Andre Iguodala who enters the game averaging 15.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game, but has struggled to find his touch from the field (42.0%). Look for him to try to get healthy against a Suns team that is mired near the bottom of the league in several defensive categories.
The remainder of the Nuggets squad is the usual suspects from last season, and by usual I mean the guys that have beaten the Suns brains in to the tune of six straight regular season wins by an average margin of victory of 15 points while scoring 120 points per game. Those guys.
The Nuggets have won four straight games after a start of 0-3. Their last two wins, on a B2B Friday and Saturday like the Suns just navigated, were by 20 at home against the Utah Jazz (104-84) and in overtime on the road against the Golden St. Warriors (107-101), both teams that have beaten the Suns in the early season.
Phoenix Suns 3-4
Points per game: 96.4 (15th) Points allowed: (103.4 (28th)
The Suns just split a B2B which saw them overcome a historic 26 point deficit to win at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers (107-105) on Friday night just to be summarily pounded on the road by the Utah Jazz (94-81). The whole season to date has taken on this feast or famine dynamic with the Suns yo-yoing between impressive runs and humiliating, demoralizing sprees. There has been little middle ground for these Jekyll and Hyde Suns.
Among the things that have been consistent, excluding the last game, is the play of Marcin Gortat. He is currently tied for 5th in the league in rebounds and 1st (numero uno) in blocked shots. Goran Dragic and Luis Scola have also been routinely solid, if not spectacular, but the rest of the roster has been shaky at best. Shannon Brown has provided intermittent firestorms and others have shown glimpses through their sporadic play, but for the most part it has been fairly parallel to the Suns' current record... subpar.
Expect Gortat to bounce back from the
recurring debacle in Salt Lake City ready to take out his frustrations on the Nuggets. Expect a more ebullient effort after a B2B travel game on the tail end of a hard fought, emotional victory. Expect a fast-paced game with profuse points. Expect free tacos. Just don't expect an easy victory. Not from these Suns. There may be a paucity of those this season, at least until they figure things out (assuming they will).
What to watch for:
Goran Dragic vs Ty Lawson - Dragic needs to
win dominate this matchup. Across the board there aren't a whole lot of positional battles where the Suns get an obvious nod, so they need to make their hay where they can. Lawson had two 20+point/10+ assist games in the last four against the Suns, but now faces a more tenacious defender. Speaking of 20/10 games, this would be a felicitous time for Goran's first of the season.
Rebounds - The Nuggets are 1st in the league in total rebounds (52.1) and 2nd in rebounding differential (+9.0). The Suns are.... the Suns. Keeping this close would eliminate one of those areas we might point to after a loss saying, "Well, you just can't win getting dominated on the glass."
Pace - This should be a high scoring game. Hopefully it's not just one team. And hopefully if it is just one team... it's the Suns. My trepidation with respect to a frenetic, free-wheeling style is that the Suns have seemed incapable of stopping the bleeding at times which could get ugly against the Nuggets if they get going on all cylinders.
Shooting - While neither team has shot the ball particularly well, Nuggets .426 and Suns .423, the Nuggets have defended much better against their opponents. The Nuggets are 5th in the league with a .417 fg % against while the Suns boast a more munificent mark of .461 (23rd). In a game that promises to have more possessions than most, the importance of winning this battle is significant. Plus, the Suns need to get off the schnide here pretty soon, because they aren't going to win a ton of games this season if they keep up these ineffectual shooting numbers.
Bench - Shannon Brown has played well at times. That is all.
Power Outage - The Suns are 22nd in the league in three point shooting (.303) while giving up a laughable .435 clip (29th). The Nuggets come in 29th in the league in three point shooting at .286. Something has to give... and these teams should both be ashamed of themselves. For additional reading on the Suns' shooting woes check out my write up on the Power Outage.
Before the season I thought I would be able to gauge the pulse of the season using Beasley and Morris as a bellwether. So far those two have been mostly fetid garbage and while the Suns' record is 3-4, the three wins have come against teams with a combined record of 4-15. The training staff might want to check Beasley and Morris to see if they still have a pulse before tonight's game because the Suns will need something from these two in the next stretch of games that also includes Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.
It's not getting any easier. Time to protect home court. The Suns can do this, right?
In what has become an unsettling trend, the Suns got down early to the Nuggets by yielding a 16-6 run to start the game. Phoenix settled down quickly, though, as Goran Dragic scored 10 first quarter points to get the Suns back in the game before he was banished to the bench with two fouls with three minutes left in the quarter. That would be the last of Dragic for the first half, as Gentry chose to go with the
perplexing decision hot hand of Sebastian Telfair for the rest of the first half. To his credit, Telfair did play some feisty defense and didn't manage to undermine the team's success too much.
The Suns hung around in the first half, despite underwhelming shooting (39.6%), by taking advantage of second opportunities and went into the half with an 8-4 edge on the offensive glass. Both teams took care of the basketball (only five TOs each) and the Suns seemed to make a concerted effort to force the issue of taking the ball to the basket.
Denver had decided advantages in fast break points and points in the paint, yet they led only 57-54.
The third quarter saw Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley get into the mix, after poor shooting efforts in the first half, with 13 of the Suns 24 points in the quarter. The play was punctuated by a swarming defensive effort from the Suns, who were spry and spunky. It was the Suns best quarter of the game, despite the fact that Telfair sat, and they outscored the Nuggets 29-21.
The Nuggets tried to make a game of it in the fourth quarter, but in the end the Suns pulled away thanks to an impressive final four minutes.
It was poetic justice in the end as Dragic (21 points, 7 assists) led the team to victory, including a huge three to make the score 100-96 with 3:10 left and a jumper to help ice the game at the 1:40 mark, while Telfair cheered on from the bench. Not to be forgotten was the contribution by the much maligned Markieff Morris, who chipped in with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals and the best +/- of any Sun (+24).
In the end it was offensive rebounds (15-9), turnovers (6-15) and brilliant execution down the stretch that won the day in the Suns 110-100 triumph.
This was an important victory for the Suns to even their record at 4-4 against a team that has given them fits, and by fits I mean ass whippings, for the last two seasons. It not only exorcised the Denver demons, but gave the Suns their first win against what appears to be a quality opponent. The result matched the effort and the fans got free tacos.
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