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Game 49 Preview & Thread: Suns at Nuggets (8:30pm MST)

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76528_mavericks_suns_basketball_medium_mediumWith the Nuggets about to play five of the Western Conference's seven best teams, now would be a good time to get Carmelo Anthony back.

Admirably, in the 10 games that Melo has missed due to injury this season, the Nuggets are 7-3 and many of those victories were against bona fide playoff teams. This is a credit to the leadership of Chauncey Billups and Kenyon Martin, who have picked up the offensive slack in Melo's absence while maintaining their defensive prowess on the floor.

Melo is allegedly set to return on Wednesday night when the "will they or won't they trade Amar'e?" show comes to Pepsi Center for a late night, nationally televised game. When we last saw the Suns in Denver, they were playing on the second of a back-to-back but were able to fight Denver down to the wire when a (good) no-call on Nene prevented Steve Nash from scoring the game-winner or get to the free throw line to ice the game for Phoenix.

If memory serves, the Suns and Nuggets were neck-and-neck record-wise when they met on December 12th. Since then, the Suns have floundered a bit, falling five games back of the Nuggets and currently find themselves fighting for a playoff seed with eight other Western Conference teams (make that seven teams now that Chris Paul is done for a month due to knee surgery...and by the way, where is Chauncey's All-Star bid, Mr. Stern?). Since losing at Denver, the Suns are 3-7 on the road and recently lost five-straight road games. They've even lost to the Pacers on the road. But by no means does this ensure a Nuggets victory on Wednesday night. Any team with All-Star starter and two-time MVP Steve Nash can win any place, any time.

Back to Melo. The Nuggets have dodged a number of bullets this season by being able to rest Melo while not missing a beat in the win column. But at some point, he must get back into the lineup on a consistent, regular basis. Billups and K-Mart have played great to fill the void left by Melo, but they shouldn't be asked to sustain this level of production (and playing time!) for the remainder of the season...especially with a tough stretch of scheduling kicking off against the Suns. Nuggets head coach George Karl is predicting that Melo will play Wednesday, but Karl was wrong when he made the same prediction the last two games. For the sake of the Nuggets and their ticket-paying fans, let's collectively hope #15 is on the floor and in the starting lineup tomorrow night.

On a side note, I'll be at the game but not in my usual seats. For those who like to chat during halftime, let's plan on meeting at Blue Sky afterward. Go Nuggets!

SCOUTING THE SUNS...

Suns Stiffs

-Steve Kerr: If you ever need proof that being a big-time clutch shooter and a great broadcaster doesn't translate into being an effective NBA executive, look no further than Steve Kerr. Under Kerr's reign, the Suns - once the darlings of the NBA and a few bad breaks away from two NBA Finals appearances - are stuck with an expensive, playoff-caliber team with aging players and no upside. The Suns are overloaded with salaries for aging players next season, too, so there's nothing bright about Phoenix's NBA future these days.

-Channing Frye: After getting off to a great start, Frye has resorted to playing like, well, Channing Frye. He's picked up his production in the last few games, but when you're supplanted in the starting lineup by the worst of the two Lopez brothers, you're a Stiff.

Suns Non-Stiffs

-Steve Nash: Turning 36 years old in five days, Nash is having one of his best NBA seasons. Having had the privilege (and it was a privilege, trust me) of watching Nash up close when the Suns were last in Denver, we should enjoy and appreciate watching one of the all-time greats while he's still at his peak.

-Amar'e Stoudemire: Constantly mired in trade rumors, Stoudemire continues to produce big numbers and is headed to Dallas as an All-Star starter. Unless they're offered a can't-miss deal, the Suns should just hang on to Stoudemire and collect whatever playoff revenue they can.

Opposition's Take: Bright Side of the Sun

Photo courtesy of AP Photos: Matt York