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Preview: Denver Nuggets face Phoenix Suns in home opener

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In a battle of young cores, the Nuggets look to prove that theirs is playoff ready.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

After starting the season with a win, the Denver Nuggets are looking to accomplish something they haven’t done since the 2011-12 season: start the year 2-0.

Wednesday’s victory against the Los Angeles Clippers provided reasons for optimism and concern going forward. Nikola Jokic led the team in scoring and was second in field goal attempts, showing some aggressiveness finding his own offense. Defensively, the Nuggets put together an excellent performance, holding the Clippers under 100 points despite a fast pace and Boban Marjanovic. Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap had their struggles offensively, but overall, it was a strong start to the season.

Now, Denver will face a stronger test. Devin Booker just put together an excellent performance in Phoenix’s season debut, going 12/19 from the field and posting 35 points and seven assists. Phoenix posted 35 assists and 121 points as a team, and with spacing around the Booker-DeAndre Ayton pick and roll, the Suns are quickly tapping into their offensive potential under new head coach, Igor Kokoskov. Denver’s defense was stout against the Clippers, but LA lacks a volume pick and roll guard that the Suns have in Booker, and the Booker-Ayton tandem is infinitely better than the Patrick Beverley-Marcin Gortat version.

Even still, if Denver focuses and provides the same effort as the first game, they should win this one. With better execution, the sky is the limit.

The Basics:

Who: Denver Nuggets vs Phoenix Suns

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Pepsi Center, Denver, CO

How to Watch: Altitude TV, League Pass

Injury Report: Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr. - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot), DeAndre Ayton - questionable (ankle)

Three things to watch:

The health of DeAndre Ayton

Nikola Jokic has an advantage in this game by simply being the better, more experienced player, but news came out of Suns practice on Friday that Ayton rolled his ankle during drills. His health is supremely important to the Suns, as he played 36 minutes in the opener and posted 18 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. Being as large as he is, teams will struggle to defend him in the middle of the floor when surrounded by the spacing of Trevor Ariza and Ryan Anderson. Jokic will be tested in space in this game, but it may become easier if Ayton is slowed by his ankle injury or doesn’t play at all.

Creating efficient team offense

While the defense was strong in the first game, the offense was surprisingly pedestrian. Murray and Millsap struggled in particular, shooting 4/19 from the field and looking out of rhythm throughout the contest. Responding by playing within the team concept and attempting advantageous shots will help Denver get over the hump. Both Murray and Millsap attempted some wild shots around the rim over defenders contesting effectively. Working the ball back to Jokic will help them.

Proving the effort and focus was no fluke

Michael Malone made an excellent point to the media after Friday’s practice, saying that the Nuggets contested 72 of the Clippers 87 shots while only allowing six uncontested shots (don’t ask me about the math here). Without looking at the numbers, I can infer based on Malone’s reaction that these numbers weren’t nearly as favorable in most games last year. Simply contesting shots and forcing the opposing offense out of their first and second read offensively is a big deal. Jokic was solid defensively. Harris and Millsap were each great. Denver generating multiple stops and going on big runs will help them in games against worse teams, but they have to maintain focus in order to do so.

Poll

Who will the Nugget of the Night be?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    Nikola Jokic
    (193 votes)
  • 6%
    Paul Millsap
    (27 votes)
  • 3%
    Will Barton
    (14 votes)
  • 10%
    Gary Harris
    (48 votes)
  • 30%
    Jamal Murray
    (133 votes)
  • 5%
    A bench player
    (24 votes)
439 votes total Vote Now