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Suns vs. Nuggets: Effort is the key (6pm MST)

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With the Denver Nuggets in the midst of a season best three-game winning streak, the Phoenix Suns and their undersized lineup come to visit. Will the Nuggets break their pattern of playing to the level of their competition? Or will the Nuggets give the critics more ammo to question their "effort"?

The Rundown

Denver (9-6)

Injuries: Chauncey Billups (nose, wrist. Game time decision) Kenyon Martin (Knee, out)

Phoenix (8-8)

Injuries: Robin Lopez (sprained knee, out)

I'm going to break from my usual synopsis/scouting report to weigh in on what TNT analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley said about the Denver Nuggets and the Carmelo Anthony situation. While on the surface it seems like a legitimate criticism considering the Nuggets lack of ability to "close games" this season, when you dig deeper you realize that maybe Kenny and Chuck just don't watch that many Nuggets games.

We must point out that the Nuggets are 9-6 this season despite having one of the most difficult schedules in the league up to this point (as pointed out by my cohort Andrew). When you realize that the Nuggets at the very least SHOULD be 11-4 despite that schedule lends itself to some legitimate disappointment with this team. However, they came through a difficult stretch and are now poised to take advantage with a nice winning streak. With victories against New Jersey, Golden State and Chicago the Nuggets have played nicely, but not their best. I'm sure Melo's flu will get the conspiracy theorists howling even though Melo was cold blooded on the game winning shot.

To the substance of what Charles and Kenny were saying, well, I'm not sure what they are saying to be honest. There is a tendency to overreact to Charles Barkley's rants, but in general he's respected by most players. I have a feeling that his view is colored by LeBron James (he's been going back and forth with him all summer) and the fact that he associates what's happening with Carmelo with LeBron. I'm not going to debate the validity of that feeling but I would like people to focus on what is actually happening on the court. How can a person who has been criticized for not having an all-around game, and then goes out and gets a career high in rebounds and assists be giving any less than 100%? (Although I still wish he would put forth more effort on defense.) The Nuggets players are fully aware of what's going on, but to say that Melo needs to be rush-traded to ease people anxieties is just outside the realm of rational thought. Players are professionals and in my view there's ZERO excuses for letting fears get the best of you on the basketball court. Go out, play, no excuses.

So in bringing it back to tonight's game, what can the Nuggets do to prove their rotund critics wrong? Blow out the Suns. Don't leave anything to doubt and just dominate. In the first meeting Nene was a BEAST for the first half, then pulled a disappearing act in the second. We need the Nene from the Bulls game to come and make and encore appearance. We need Al Harrington to break out of his uninspired play to drive to the basket against this undersized Suns unit. We also need Chris Andersen to continue working his way back into the lineup and provide that much needed energy that the Nuggets have been missing most of this season.

More than anything else, I'm sick and tired of the Nuggets giving their critics (and there's plenty of them) more ammo by just kinda sleepwalking. FINISH THE GAME! Play strong throughout. There's no excuse for not handily winning against the Suns tonight and it's my feeling that in order to prove your critics wrong you must step on an opponents throat and show you won't be the butt of jokes or passive aggressive comments by TV analysts anymore. No excuse to let Hakim Warrick go off again. No excuse to let Hedo Turkoglu break out of his season long slump. No excuse to let Arron Afflalo guard Warrick the last quarter.

All in all, 10-6 looks a hell of a lot better than 9-6. The Nuggets proved something when they won on the road in Golden State last week, lets see if they can prove something again by just winning with no doubt.