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Preview: Denver Nuggets take brief jaunt down to Phoenix to face Suns

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1 game trips to Phoenix during a B2B seem to be a theme this year

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

For the second time in two weeks, the Denver Nuggets will make a quick one game road trip down to Phoenix to play the Suns. Like when they were in Phoenix on December 29th, the trip is part of a back to back but this time around the Nuggets will get Phoenix on the front end, rather than the back end. That should help out Denver, who let the lowly Suns hang around until the very end of the game last time around before eventually dispatching them 122-118. The Nuggets roster could look very different this time around as well...or it might look exactly the same.

Last time against Phoenix the Nuggets were without the services of Gary Harris and Will Barton, both of those players are listed as a game time decision as of Saturday morning, as is Trey Lyles who did play in the previous contest. The Nuggets also have the services of a fully re-integrated Paul Millsap who was making his return after being out for a month last time these teams met. On the Suns side they are relatively healthy with one major exception, star guard Devin Booker has been dealing with back spasms and is doubtful for the game tonight. Without Booker, Phoenix has an incredible challenge knocking off the top team in the West.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (28-12) at Phoenix Suns (10-33)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena, Phoenix AZ

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

Rival Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Suns Advantage
Position Nuggets Suns Advantage
PG Jamal Murray De'Anthony Melton Nuggets
SG Malik Beasley T.J. Warren Suns
SF Torrey Craig Justin Jackson Even
PF Paul Millsap Mikal Bridges Nuggets
C Nikola Jokic DeAndre Ayton Nuggets
Bench Mason Plumlee, Gary Harris, Monte Morris, Will Barton, Juancho Hernangomez, Trey Lyles Kelly Oubre Jr, Richaun Holmes, Elie Okobo, Troy Daniels, Quincy Acy Nuggets

Injured players: Gary Harris - game time decision (hamstring), Will Barton - game time decision (groin), Trey Lyles - game time decision (wrist), Isaiah Thomas - out (hip), Michael Porter Jr - out (back), Jarred Vanderbilt - out (foot), Devin Booker - game time decision (back).

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Ayton

No doubt where the marquee face off is tonight. Ayton is by far the biggest threat on Phoenix if Booker is a no go and he had some impressive stretches against the Nuggets the last time these teams met. He’s big, powerful, fast and skilled which is a tough combo for Jokic (or any center) to deal with on the defensive end. Of course, Ayton’s defensive prowess leaves something to be desired and Jokic has eaten Ayton’s lunch both time’s the Nuggets and Suns have played this season. Joker recorded a monster triple double in the first meeting, and nearly got another in the second. With the way Nikola has been playing lately the Suns are going to need Ayton to score around 30 to offset what Joker is likely to do.

Key thing to watch for: rotation

If Will Barton is back tonight and if Gary Harris is a go then we’ll start to see the Nuggets full power rotation take place. I would certainly not expect Barton to start given he’s been out for so long and I think the Nuggets will probably take it slow with Harris as well. The rotation tonight will be a bit funky if those guys are coming off the bench but more important will be who is losing minutes at the back end. It may be a moot point if Lyles is unable to go himself but if he does play then where the minutes shake out, particularly between Lyles and Juancho Hernangomez, will be a very interesting thing to watch.

Opening thought: this is a trap game if I’ve ever seen one

The Suns in all likelihood are without their best player and even if he plays they’re still the worst team in the entire Western Conference. This game is the front end of a back to back, sandwiched in the middle of a five games in seven nights stretch and right before a decent home stand that kicks off with arguably the Nuggets biggest division rival and then the Golden State Warriors. If ever there was a game a team would overlook, it’s this one. The Nuggets have shown this season that they can maintain their focus despite the quality of the opponent or the circumstances of the schedule but that mentality is going to be tested once again tonight.