Normally this sort of thing would be a home-and-home: the Phoenix Suns would host the Denver Nuggets, then fly to Denver to do it all over again. But thanks to Covid-19, the NBA is trying to limit some of those extra trips and that means the Nuggets got to sleep in the same city after last night’s late-night, overtime win over the Suns and then wake up to do it all again.
Four of Denver’s starters pulled heavy minutes last night in the win, while Devin Booker is questionable after an awkward late-game landing that left him limping and unavailable to finish overtime. Denver’s bench will need to use those better-rested legs again to help the starters pull off back-to-back wins in Phoenix.
Who: Denver Nuggets (8-7) at Phoenix Suns (8-6)
When: 7 PM MST
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena. Phoenix, AZ.
How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy...unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. ESPN, Altitude TV where available, League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. To watch in person you’ll have to dress up like a member of the cleaning staff and then lower yourself to the floor Mission-Impossible-style from the roof walkways suspended above the court. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.
Rival blog: Bright Side of the Sun
Player availability: Greg Whittington - out (knee); Dario Saric - out (health and safety), Damian Jones - out (health and safety), Devin Booker - day to day (ankle).
Three things to watch for
- Who will help Jokic out? It’d be nice if the refs would take off the blindfolds, for one - Jokic took 27 shots with one free throw, which was not an accurate representation of how he was defended. The refs had a tough night all around, though. Suns fans were howling after Gary Harris got a left elbow to the chin by Booker that swung the overtime in Denver’s favor, but all the replays showed the right elbow missing him. I guess if no one is happy with the reffing then they’re not showing favorites.
But Denver needs more from its starters. They looked better in the second half and overtime, but the first half was atrocious and the bench had to save Denver’s bacon twice in the game. Jokic took 27 shots, a total he’s only eclipsed in two other games in his career.
MPJ and Monte have 17 points on 10 shots. The 4 non-Jokic starters have 17 points on 20 shots. pic.twitter.com/vSWBWGxRpr— Gordon Gross (@GMoneyNuggs) January 23, 2021
That can’t keep happening. The starters will likely have tired legs, and bombing from outside is unlikely to show much improvement on the dismal 6-for-26 performance from last night’s game beyond the arc. The starters will have to move and get to the bucket or the foul line, instead of leaving it up to Jokic to single-handedly keep them in the game until they wake up.
- Time for the bench to shine. Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris were both good last night. Morris especially continues his upward trajectory, logging 32 minutes and finishing with a +17 Plus/Minus on the evening. But Porter played only 20 minutes last night, half that of most of the starters, and other bench players had very minimal minutes. The Nuggets will need them to pull their weight again. Last night they came through with some of the best minutes of the season when Denver needed them to reel in the Suns from the large lead they’d built over the starters, and will likely need a similar showing to get another win.
- Defense - which team wants to play it? The Nuggets shot abysmally from three last night, but that wasn’t particularly because the Suns were out face-guarding them. The Suns shot very well, but a rash of late turnovers forced by Denver contributed to forcing overtime and the eventual Nuggets win. Early on, Phoenix got whatever it wanted inside and didn’t miss from distance, while later Denver attacked the paint and put the Suns on their heels, getting whatever they needed inside. The team that adjusts to the needs of this game - which will likely be paint points again and making the extra rotation on shooters - will have the upper hand.
Prediction: 108-101, Denver.