What were you doing in 1997? I ask because that was the last time a George Karl coached team won in Phoenix.
In December 1997, Bill Clinton was president and hadn't yet endured the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Kobe Bryant was beginning his second NBA season and Tim Duncan his rookie season, the Broncos and their fans were bracing for another playoff disappointment (even though they'd go on to win their first Super Bowl) and The Spice Girls were dominating the music scene.
It was so long ago, that George Karl was able to beat the Suns twice in the same calendar year. Something that's been unheard of since.
In Karl's second-to-last win at Phoenix - May 1, 1997 - his Sonics won a thrilling 122-115 overtime playoff game over the Suns. In that game, former Nugget executive Rex Chapman scored 22 points for the Suns but is better remembered for making one of the greatest shots in NBA playoff history - a last-second three-pointer off a very difficult pass that sent Chapman out of bounds as he shot it. Somehow Karl's Sonics survived that big-time shot, won the game in overtime and decimated the Suns in Game 5 at Seattle.
And in Karl's last victory at Phoenix - a rematch between the Sonics and Suns in December 1997 after that great playoff series - Karl's Sonics won 106-97, overcoming 26 points from Chapman.
And yet, for an assortment of bizarre reasons, Karl hasn't won at Phoenix since. In fact, our Nuggets haven't won at Phoenix since Jeff Bzdelik coached the team in April 2004. Those are two streaks that the Nuggets need to break, especially after their primary current Western Conference competition - the (former Sonics) Thunder, Hornets and Trail Blazers - all claimed victories in their last games played and the Grizzlies lurk just two games back of Denver. Suddenly, that five-seed in the conference doesn't look so secure.
If ever there was a time for Denver to take home a victory at Phoenix, it's now. Just a season removed from a hard fought, six-game Western Conference Finals series against the Lakers, the sort-of-aging, oddly constructed Suns could miss the playoffs altogether.
This past off-season, the Suns famously lost Amar'e Stoudemire via free agency to the Knicks and yet weren't smart enough to get David Lee in return. Lee hasn't put up the numbers for Golden State that he had put up in New York, but you have to believe that Lee could've easily filled in for Stoudemire's production in Phoenix alongside the ageless (and always great) Steve Nash. With Lee, the Suns wouldn't be on the outside looking in right now. Instead, with a huge gaping hole at power forward the Suns muddle through game-after-game playing small ball while trying to out-shoot their opponents. Sound familiar, Nuggets fans?
But although the Suns have slipped dramatically in the Western Conference standings, they aren't quite ready to let their impressive streaks against Karl and the Nuggets come to an end. Despite getting off to an awful start this season, the Suns' small ball has done them well as of late and the team from the desert has won 10 of its last 14 games (it helped that most of those 10 wins came against sub-par opponents, but wins are wins when you're fighting for your playoff lives).
Netting Karl his first win at Phoenix in nearly 14 years will not be easy. Especially with the Nuggets expected to miss Danilo Gallinari (toe) and possibly Arron Afflalo (hamstring), two of the Nuggets most important players. And without Gallo and Afflalo (whose names together sound like a pair of mobsters), perhaps Karl should consider slowing the game down and beating the Suns inside with the Nuggets newfound size.
SCOUTING THE SUNS...
-Steve Nash: If you truly love the NBA, you have to love Steve Nash. Now 37 years old, Nash is averaging 15.9 ppg, a near career-high 11.4 apg and is shooting over 50% from the field. Nash shouldn't have to finish his amazing career for an aimless franchise like Phoenix, but his loyalty needs to be applauded.
-Grant Hill: Not to be outdone by his fellow old-school teammate, the 38-year-old Hill is having his best offensive season in four years while contributing in all areas of the game.
-Marcin Gortat: The big man that many Nuggets fans were salivating over after his impressive performance for the Magic in their lead up to the 2009 NBA Finals, Gortat is currently leading the NBA in double-doubles off the bench with 14.
-Robin Lopez: I actually like "the other Lopez brother", but when you look like Sideshow Bob you end up on the Stiff List.
-Vince Carter: Carter has put up 29 and 32 points, respectively, in the Suns last two games. In the four games before that? Carter missed one and in the three he played, he combined for 9-33 shooting. Carter's continued inconsistency might be one of the main reasons the Suns miss the postseason this year.
Even though the new-look Nuggets should win at Phoenix on Thursday night, we've learned the hard way never to assume a Nugget victory when playing at the US Airways Center.
Opposition's Take: Bright Side of the Sun