The Nuggets are scheduled to face the Suns for their next two games. How important are these games for playoff positioning?
Daniel Lewis (@denverstiffs): They going to let fans in Ball Arena for playoff games? If yes, these are pretty important. The Nuggets need good wins, and these would fall in that category. Paul has tormented the Nuggets for years, and it would be nice to see Jamal Murray get a win over his veteran counterpart. We know Jokić can win his matchup, but right now, the Suns seem like the superior team.
Gage Bridgford (@GbridgfordNFL): Considering fourth through 14th place are separated by just three games, it’s pretty important. As the season wears on, that gap will grow, but Denver needs to keep pace with the teams ahead of them. The Suns will likely fade some from this hot start as the season goes on. Down the road, if they end up close in the standings and tied, these wins can be the difference between hosting a playoff series or going on the road. These two games wrap up the season series already. If they drop either of them, they lose the series.
Reid Howard: Unlike Gage, I think the pace the Suns are on is very maintainable if they can stay relatively healthy. It would not surprise me at all if the Nuggets are duking it out with them and another team or two for the 3-6 seeds when the regular season is wrapping up. As Daniel noted, if there are fans in stands come playoff time, winning the head to head matchup with teams such as the Suns could go a long way to securing home court advantage for at least one round. However, even if the stadiums remain empty, the combination of the altitude advantage and less road games would still be crucial, albeit slightly less.
Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs): I don’t know that I consider playoff seeding implications to be the most important part of these games, but it matters - Denver should already have 3 more wins than they do. Back-to-back games against the same opponent usually results in a split, but Denver needs some makeup games for the wins they’ve already flushed, and reeling in the Suns who are ahead of them in the early standings would be a nice way to do that regardless of seeding concerns.
Which player on the Suns is the most difficult matchup for the Nuggets?
Lewis: I’m going with Mikal Bridges. Chris Paul should spend a good amount of time on Murray for defense, but the cold shooting from Barton and Harris means Bridges can hunt passing lanes. He can make life horrible for the Nuggets guards. Since he’s a solid shooting threat, that means he can really help space the court for Booker and Paul. He won’t be the person the defense tries to stop first, but he could easily be the X-factor.
Bridgford: Assuming someone else is going to say Devin Booker, I’m going with Chris Paul. DeAndre Ayton is a talented offensive player, but he does most of his damage close to the basket where Nikola Jokic is pretty comfortable. Mikal Bridges is a talented player, but Will Barton should be able to hold his own. For Paul, Jamal Murray will have to bring his best which he has been inconsistent in doing so this year. Paul is 35 years old, and he’s still averaging 13.5 points, 8.6 assists and 4.5 rebounds per game. Murray needs to step his level of play up for these two games and string it into some positive play moving forward.
Howard: Devin Booker. He’s the Suns most lethal scorer and the Nuggets have struggled with the perimeter defense this season. If Gary Harris and co. can contribute to Booker having an off night, it might just be enough to get them a couple wins in Phoenix.
Gross: Chris Paul. He’s down to just 11 shots a game but his ability to get his own and orchestrate the offense helps Booker out so much, and his defense has been a problem for Murray in the past when Jamal gets loose with his handle. He can cause Monte Morris problems as well, and Denver needs its point guards to help Jokic out. CP3 is still a 2-way problem for Denver, who will need Harris to try to slow Booker which means Murray and Morris and Campazzo will all have their hands full.
The Suns rebuild looks completed — which team in the league is going to fill their shoes as a team with a young star that is on the right path for future success?
Lewis: I want to say New Orleans, but I really don’t see how Ingram and Zion are a good fit. I’ll say Memphis — I like Ja, and think he’s got star potential. I think Jaren Jackson Jr., Justise Winslow, Xavier Tillman Sr., DeAnthony Melton, and Brandon Clarke have a really high defensive ceiling. That team could be nasty in a year or two, but need to find a final piece or two in order to make everything click for them.
Bridgford: I think it’s the Memphis Grizzlies. The Dallas Mavericks are a little further along than the Suns were entering this year, although I think the Suns are playing with fire with Paul’s age, but the Grizzlies are the team that really seem like they’re trying to build the right way. They have some veterans on the roster, but it is a lot of young guys. Of the 18 players they have listed under contracts, only four of those players have been in the NBA longer than five seasons. If they can really solidify their young rotation around Ja Morant, they have the potential to build a long-term team around him.
Howard: Do the Atlanta Hawks count? They may fall into the same group as the Suns, but both teams still require internal improvement from their young core to become true contenders. I believe the Hawks are in a similar place to where the Nuggets were the first two years after signing Paul Millsap. Some might call it “skipping steps” to add veteran pieces to a young team before they’re ready to challenge for a title, but if these moves allow the young guys to gain some playoff experience, then these acquisitions pay off in spades.
Gross: I agree on Memphis. Their build seems more coherent than some others, though I’m very curious to see how this Chicago Bulls thing goes with Arturas Karnisovas at the helm. They have more roster spots to sort through than the Grizzlies though.
You’re in a shooting slump, what would you do to snap out of it? Asking for a friend.
Lewis: Find a new pregame meal or alter my routine, but just slightly. Maybe go with a flank steak, sautéed pepper and onion mix or a light fish and chip dish - nothing too heavy. Then try warming up with a hoodie on, shedding layers as tip-off gets closer. You have to try something, clearly the mojo isn’t there that you need to get the ball through the rim.
Bridgford: Keep shooting. They’re going to fall eventually. If you stop shooting, you’ll never score again. “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. - Wayne Gretzky” - Michael Scott.
Howard: Depends on how good of a shooter you are. If you’re above average by NBA standards, fire away. Even the greatest shooters of all-time go through slumps, if they became overly hesitant in these periods, they may not be considered amongst the best. Don’t lose confidence and keep firing, they’ll fall eventually and it keeps the defense honest. For the other roughly 60% of the league, improving your shot selection might be the best option. If someone is closing out hard on you, attempt a drive rather than a tougher shot. Additionally, stop taking off-the-dribble jump shots at all unless you have to and only attempt the open jumpers the defense allows you to take.
Gross: Shooters shoot. The more problematic question to me is, “how do you stay healthy if you are a starting guard for the Denver Nuggets” because I can only assume that lower body issues continue to contribute to some problems, and there may be long-term training and strengthening issues to be addressed. Someone call the guy who helped Steph Curry with his ankles, ASAP.
There is a new president in the United States — which player on the roster would be the best political leader?
Lewis: Of all the players on the team, I think Monté Morris would be best. I think he’d take the responsibility seriously, he’d run a tight ship, and accomplish realistic goals. You also know the inauguration party would be incredible, people would be so excited for him. Vote for Monte.
Bridgford: Paul Millsap. There are other guys on the roster that are more likable or may have more modern views on things, but Millsap just makes the most sense. The veteran has been around the block a time or two, and he just has a better view than the rest of the guys. He’s also a decently likable guy in his own right. While others might be more fun or entertaining, Millsap is the correct decision.
Howard: Although he isn’t even old enough to drink yet, Zeke Nnaji strikes me as a level-headed individual that could excel in politics. He doesn’t seem like a rookie in any of his interviews and should only get wiser with more life-experience.
Gross: Gary Harris. Gary was in Europe with Danilo Gallinari learning about investing and industry as a very young pro. He’s got ambitions after his playing life and wants to make sure the generational wealth he is creating for himself and his family is not wasted. He can apply those same tendencies to think generationally to politics.