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Preview: Denver Nuggets open new year with matchup against Phoenix Suns

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Lets get 2021 started off with a bang

Phoenix Suns v Denver Nuggets Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

While the Denver Nuggets are sure to have fond, and perhaps some not so fond, memories of the way their 2019-2020 season ended, they’re less likely to be enthusiastic about the way they ended the year of 2020. Now in the 20/21 season, Denver is off to a rocky start at 1-3, including a pair of losses to the Sacramento Kings. The Nuggets defense and rebounding is at the crux of the issue, along with some up and down play from their back court. In order to get things righted right away in the new year, the Nuggets have the tall task of beating the upstart Phoenix Suns.

After an impressive bubble performance where Phoenix literally did everything they could to make the playoffs but ended up just a game short the team reloaded in the offseason to make sure this year they will be a postseason participant. Most notably they brought in veteran point guard Chris Paul who still is playing at a very high level despite being at age 35. He pairs in the backcourt with homegrown Suns star Devin Booker, who appears to finally have the cast around him to make some real noise in the NBA. Former 1st overall pick DeAndre Ayton continues to improve and the Suns have been adding depth and solid rotation pieces via the draft and offseason for a couple seasons. Put it all together and let’s just say these aren’t your older brother’s Suns from the early 2010s anymore.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (1-3) at Phoenix Suns (4-1)

When: 7:00 PM MST

Where: Talking Stick Resort Arena. Phoenix, AZ.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy...unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. Altitude TV where available, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Sneak into Talking Stick Resort Arena dressed up as a gorilla. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Projected Matchups

Projected Matchups

Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
PG Monte Morris Malcolm Brogdon Pacers
SG Jamal Murray Justin Holiday Nuggets
SF Will Barton Doug McDermott Even
PF Michael Porter Jr. Domantas Sabonis Pacers
C Nikola Jokic Myles turner Nuggets
Bench P.J. Dozier, Zeke Nnaji, Isaiah Hartenstein, Vlatko Cancar T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner, Aaron Holiday Pacers

Player availability: Jamal Murray - probable (wrist), JaMychal Green - questionable (calf), Michael Porter Jr. - out (safety protocol), Greg Whittington - out (knee). The Suns have not submitted their injury report at time of writing. For injury updates check the NBA Official Injury Report.

Three Things to Watch For

Key matchup: Jamal Murray vs Chris Paul

Houston Rockets v Denver Nuggets Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

CP3 is still one of the toughest matchups in the league at the point guard position. He hasn’t been scoring as much in Phoenix’s early start but is back to dishing out close to ten assists a game while still scoring in double figures. Add in the fact that he’s still a quality defender and Murray is no doubt going to have his hands full tonight with the future Hall of Famer. Denver can’t afford a slow night from Murray either. With MPJ sidelined the Nuggets need others to pick up the slack on the scoring end and Murray has to be candidate number one there. He’s been solid the last few games but tonight is the perfect night for him to top 30 points the first time this season.

Key thing to watch for: Will Barton

The other person who is primed to shine in MPJ’s absence is going to be Will Barton who should take on the starting small forward spot tonight. Will was vocal about the fact that he didn’t want to come off the bench but has been a good trooper nonetheless. He’s going to have a tough matchup tonight with the lengthy Mikal Bridges on him and gone are the days where you only worried about scoring on Bridges. He’s off to a very solid start offensively with Phoenix and is a force to be reckoned with on his own. The Nuggets need a big night from Barton.

Opening thought: Don’t panic

Nobody likes Denver being at 1-3 to start the season. It’s important to point out though that they are a buzzer beating tip-in away from being 2-2 with losses against the Los Angeles Clippers and the Kings in Sacramento. It’s really only that opening night loss against the Kings in Denver that sticks out as truly egregious. As I’ve been saying in this preview, do not sleep on Phoenix. They are a good team, a playoff team and the Nuggets are trying to win on their court. There’s a good chance Denver is 1-4 after tonight, not ideal. However, don’t get caught up in the idea that this is a must win or that the Nuggets aren’t in fact one of the best teams in the NBA. Some bad luck, some early season rust and honestly some pretty quality opponents are the reasons for their losses thus far. Nuggets are going to be alright, whether or not they get the win tonight.