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Preview: Denver Nuggets look to even series against Phoenix Suns in Game 2

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NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Nuggets (51-28) looked like they were on pace to steal Game 1 on the road against the Phoenix Suns (56-23) as they at one point led by 10 around four minutes into the third quarter. Denver was outscored by 27 points over the final 20 minutes of game time as they were unable to get stops on defense, and, when they got good looks on offense, the shots weren’t falling.

As they did against Portland, they “wasted” a great game by Aaron Gordon. Gordon poured in 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting with three offensive rebounds and three steals on defense. He looks to have a solid matchup in this series with Devin Booker generally being the one matching up with him on defense. Jokic looked just a bit off in Game 1. Whether it was the physicality or something else, he just could quite get himself rolling to his usual standard of play. If he can’t get that fixed tonight, this series is going to be a rough one for Denver.

For Phoenix, it took them a little while at the start of each quarter, but everything seemed to be rolling their way. Every time the Nuggets got on a run, they were able to kill it and come back with one of their own. Mikal Bridges had a hell of a game with 8-of-12 shooting including a 4-of-8 showing from 3-point range. After scoring just five points in the first half, Chris Paul got his sea legs under him to the tune of 16 points on 6-of-9 from the floor in the second half. In all, Phoenix had all five starters in double figures including four of the five with 20 or more points.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (51-28, 24-16 away) @ Phoenix Suns (56-23, 30-10 home)

When: 7:30 p.m. MST

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy..unless it’s the romanticized 18th-century type. AltitudeTV where available. League Pass for non-Denver market viewers. Show up in Phoenix. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Expected Starting Lineups:

PHX: PG Chris Paul, SG Devin Booker, SF Mikal Bridges, PF Jae Crowder, C Deandre Ayton

DEN: PG Facundo Campazzo, SG Austin Rivers, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Michael Porter Jr., C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Will Barton, PJ Dozier

Three Things to Watch

Free Throws

In Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Nuggets shot eight free throws compared to 19 for Portland. In Game 2, that balanced out with Denver ending up at the line for 30 attempts to Portland’s 28. In Game 1 against the Suns, Denver shot a whopping six free throws, including zero for Jokic, while the Suns got to the line for 20 attempts on the night. The refs were allowing a lot of physicality in Game 1, and Denver has to play into that in Game 2. Force the referees to either call a foul on the defense or use your size advantages with Jokic and Gordon inside the paint.

Mid-Range Battle

In Game 1, the Suns shot 61.1 percent on 18 pull-up 2-point shots. The Nuggets attempted 12 and shot 50 percent on those same style of looks. Denver made 14 triples compared to 13 for Phoenix, and Denver had 52 points in the paint compared to 48 for the Suns. The area between the paint and the 3-point line belonged firmly to Phoenix, and Denver has to put up a better fight in that area. If they’re closing out on a shooter, they can’t just blow by them because this team is going to hit the mid-range shots you’re giving up.

Battle of the Benches

The starting lineups are the marquee matchup here obviously, but the benches will still play a factor. For Denver, excluding the brief stint by Markus Howard, they had three players, Monte Morris, Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green, who played rotation minutes in the loss. Those three players had a combined plus/minus of -55. Morris went 1-of-10, including 0-of-4 from 3-point range, en route to a -28 night. While Denver’s bench struggled, Torrey Craig and other members of the Suns were able to provide some energy and a few hustle plays that helped swing the game in Phoenix’s favor. If Denver’s bench doesn’t step it up, Denver could very well be in a quick 2-0 hole.