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Preview: Nuggets look to tan Suns at home

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The Suns have lost 42 of their last 52 games, and the Nuggets look to make it 43 of their last 53 with a win at the Pepsi Center tonight. They'll have to stop Devin Booker - will Gary Harris, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Kenneth Faried lead the team to another victory?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a year since one of the moments that made me most disgusted to be a Nuggets fan. Some of you, if you're lucky, have removed this from your memory banks, but in case you forgot, here's a quick recap.

The Nuggets were getting blown out by the Utah Jazz, and the season was comparable to the soggy side of a swirly up to that point. During the fourth quarter, they broke a huddle with a "1, 2, 3, six weeks" chant, obviously looking forward to the day when the season would finally, mercifully, end.

Fast forward a year, and now the Suns are the team that is more likely to be breaking huddles with "1, 2, 3, six weeks"

The Suns had hope when they started the season. They beat the Nuggets twice in November, and had a 7-5 record after the second win. They've lost 42 of the last 52 games since that win against Denver, with three of those wins coming in the last two weeks. It's been a brutal season for Phoenix - they've lost Eric Bledsoe for the season, Brandon Knight has been hurt again, and they raked Jeff Hornacek over the coals before finally setting him free.

One pleasant thing amidst the overwhelming stench of death is their rookie guard, Devin Booker. The youngest player in the league is averaging 24 points per game over his previous five games, and the Suns are happy to let him take all the shots he wants.

Alex Len, their third-year center, has been moved into the starting lineup next to Tyson Chandler, and the increase in minutes has boosted his stats. Len is averaging 18.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per game in March, and Suns interim head coach Earl Watson is calling plays for him in the post more frequently every game.

The Suns have done the Nuggets a favor by beating the Grizzlies twice in the past two weeks, but other than a win against Orlando, this is a team that the Nuggets should beat. According to Nylon Calculus, 65.9 percent of the time this season, the Suns are either ahead or behind by nine points or more - it doesn't take an astronaut to figure out which end they're most likely on. The Nuggets need to play a full 48 minutes, start fast, finish out quarters strong, and if they do that, they should bag another victory on this homestand.

The Basics

Who: Phoenix Suns (17-47) at Denver Nuggets (26-38)
When: 7:00 PM MT
Where: Pepsi Center, Denver CO
Where to watch: Altitude
Rival Blog:
Brightside of the Sun

Phoenix Suns Denver Nuggets 
Advantage
PG Ronnie Price Emmanuel Mudiay Nuggets
SG Devin Booker Gary Harris Suns
SF P.J. Tucker JaKarr Sampson Suns
PF Alex Len Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C Tyson Chandler Nikola Jokic Even
Bench

Mirza Teletovic, John Jenkins, Archie Goodwin, Jon Leuer, Chase Budinger, Phil Pressey

Will Barton, D.J. Augustin, Axel Toupane, Darrell Arthur, Joffrey Lauvergne, Mike Miller Nuggets

Injured players: Danilo Gallinari, ankle (out), Wilson Chandler, hip (out), Jusuf Nurkic, knee (probable), Darrell Arthur, knee (probable), Eric Bledsoe, knee (out), Brandon Knight, groin (questionable), T.J. Warren, foot (out)

Three thoughts

Who will start for the Nuggets, Kenneth Faried or the Manimal? Lately, the Manimal has been playing for the Nuggets, with No. 35 beasting on the offensive and defensive glass while thriving in the vertical game. Manimal seems to play better after the All-Star break, and he's doing so again this season. With Gallinari out, the Nuggets are asking Manimal to step up as a team leader, and his energy levels seem to have risen to the challenge. Len and Chandler are a tall frontcourt for the Nuggets, and Chandler is such a savvy offensive rebounder while Len is a physical mismatch for Manimal. Hopefully Kenneth Faried, the one that doesn't rebound and takes too many midrange jumpers, stays at home today.

Can Gary Harris limit Devin Booker? Booker is going to get shots up - he's the primary scorer for their team. But Harris comes into this game matching up well physically against Booker, and should be able to bother him into a lower field goal percentage. Harris also needs to make Booker work on offense, running him into screens, cutting backdoor to the rim, and forcing him to expend energy on both ends of the court. The Knicks were the latest team to come to Denver and get fatigued due to the altitude - the Suns, with their limited depth, should be the next victim.

Consider the Tank Rank. Neither of these teams are playoff teams - I feel comfortable saying that the Nuggets aren't going to be the 8-seed this year, and the Suns are mathematically eliminated (I think). The Nuggets have won two in a row, which has resulted in the Sacramento Kings "passing" them in the lottery. The Suns are hanging on to the third-worst record in the league thanks to a recent surge by the Brooklyn Nets. The Lakers are playing better, but Byron Scott may have to fix that in order for the Lakers to keep their draft pick from going to Philadelphia.

A win by Phoenix would mean the Lakers would be able to give D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson more minutes. A loss, and that may mean more Tarik Black. A win by Denver, and the odds of them swapping with the Knicks improves. A loss by Denver, and they slide down "ahead" of the Kings and get closer to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Nuggets fans should be cheering for wins. Remember, the way the Nuggets end this season can have a big impact on their attitude over the offseason. Winning is contagious, and has a positive effect on the entire organization. The Nuggets shouldn't be satisfied with keeping their pick and watching the Knicks send their pick to the Raptors. The Nuggets should be sending their pick to the Raptors (through the Knicks).

Imagine how sweet it will be to watch the lottery drawing, sipping on a beverage of your choosing, when the envelope for a top 3 pick is drawn and has the New York Knicks card on the inside, granting the Nuggets their first top 3 pick since Carmelo. How sweet that day will be, as we gleefully bask in the fruits of the Carmelo trade finally end with a glorious draft pick. I better stop before I get too ahead of myself.

Prediction: Denver Nuggets 109 - Phoenix Suns 94. Lots of Manimal.