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Preview: Nuggets take on Suns in Phoenix on back to back

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Could Paul Millsap be back tonight after breaking his toe just three weeks ago?

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

After a hard fought win against the San Antonio Spurs last night 102-99, the Denver Nuggets have traveled to Phoenix and will take on the Suns in just a few hours. Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic had good performances, and Denver will need more of the same from those two to match up with the suddenly competent Suns, who are 5-5 in their last 10 games.

Devin Booker has been excellent this year. With averages of 25.2 points and 7.2 assists, Booker has made good on his potential to become a top tier perimeter creator. DeAndre Ayton has found his groove as well, while T.J. Warren averages 18.5 points per game on 44.2% from behind the arc, remaking his image as just a midrange scorer. Still, it has primarily been just those three, with occasional cameo appearances from Mikal Bridges and Kelly Oubre. The Suns are still a poor defensive team, and Denver, despite being down a million players, should have an opportunity to take this one.

Adding to the news is that Paul Millsap, just three weeks after breaking his toe, is a game time decision tonight. We will learn more about his status as game time rolls around, but it would be a major boost for the Nuggets to get back their starting power forward, even if he comes off the bench to start. Denver needs his defense and versatility, especially with Trey Lyles struggling in a major way.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (22-11) at Phoenix Suns (9-27)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Talking Stick Arena; Phoenix, AZ

How to watch/listen: Altitude 2, AltitudeNOW.com, the AltitudeNOW app and Altitude Radio 92.5 FM.

Rival Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Injury Report: Malik Beasley is questionable, but so is Paul Millsap. Jamal Murray (probable) may be slowed by an ankle injury. Otherwise, everything’s the same.

Three things to watch:

Controlling the pace

Denver may want to slow this game down against the Suns and run things methodically throw Nikola Jokic. The Suns don’t have the personnel to defend him 1-on-1, and if they send double teams in the halfcourt, it should set up the rest of the Nuggets to play off Jokic passes. Torrey Craig and Juancho Hernangomez have played reasonably well in the half court the last few games, and reducing pace of play should help Murray from tiring too much given his ankle injury. Denver needs all hands on deck, and slowing down the pace, playing a defensive minded game, and grinding out a victory may help them deal with a potentially high scoring Suns team.

Stylistic clash

Denver has started a big lineup for awhile with Hernangomez and Mason Plumlee starting next to Jokic. Meanwhile, the Suns surround Ayton with a bunch of wings. Even De’Anthony Melton is large for a point guard. Denver will likely face switches on the perimeter, but if they can force switches with Nikola Jokic being defended by smaller players, Denver will have an opportunity to put up a strong performance on offense. Defensively, Denver has trouble when these matchups generate switches, and Jamal Murray or Mason Plumlee being forced to defend Devin Booker for prolonged periods of time could be troublesome.

Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Ayton

Last time these two teams faced, Jokic gave Ayton a master class in center play, scoring 35 points on 11/11 from the field and tallying a triple-double with zero turnovers. It was perhaps Jokic’s best performance of his career. With so many injuries, the Nuggets need Jokic to approach that level of play once again. This is the same old story for Jokic, who must once again raise his game to help the Nuggets earn a victory. Ayton has played very well of late, tallying 19.7 points and 14.1 rebounds on over 65% from the field in his last seven games, so Jokic will have to work defensively as well.