The Denver Nuggets and the Phoenix Suns will face off for the third time this season. So far, the season series is tied 1-1, and a win tonight could bring significant confidence to a Nuggets team that has not played their best basketball of late. It will not be an easy task even without Chris Paul. The Suns are 11-4 since the All-Star break, and they are currently trying to extend a six-game winning streak. Denver has lost four of their last seven, but a 127 point effort at home against a good Clippers defense could bring better omens to come.

Phoenix might be the most well-balanced team in the league. They are the 3rd best scoring offense and the 6th best scoring defense. Devin Booker leads the team in scoring with nearly 26 points per game, and their big man Deandre Ayton is a force as well. He is coming off a 35 point, 14 rebound performance in a win against the Timberwolves last night. This game will be the second night of a road back-to-back for Phoenix, so Denver might want to push the pace tonight.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (43-30, 21-14 home) vs Phoenix Suns (59-14, 29-6 away)

When: 7:00 PM MT

Where: Ball Arena

How to watch/listen: NBA TV, NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio

Rival Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Expected Starting Lineups:

PHO: PG Cameron Payne, SG Devin Booker, SF Mikal Bridges, PF Jae Crowder, C Deandre Ayton

DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic

Injuries: Jamal Murray (out), Michael Porter Jr. (out), Zeke Nnaji (out), Vlatko Cancar (out), Chris Paul (out), Cameron Johnson (day to day), Frank Kaminsky (out), Dario Saric (out), Gabriel Lundberg (out)

Three Keys

Defend the pick and roll

We have seen it so many times out of this Suns unit, so the Nuggets need to be ready for a steady diet of that tonight. They seem to love isolating Jokic in the pick and roll, and even without Paul, they are still operating at a high level. Their floor spacing is fantastic because they have effective shooters from deep, and their big man Deandre Ayton is a great finisher inside. Denver’s defenders who aren’t involved in the pick and roll need to keep a conscious eye between their man and the ball as well. If they ignore their man, cuts and three-point opportunities will be available. Help at the right times and trust the rotations will proceed accordingly.

Execute the extras

The Suns are a team that rarely beats themselves, but if Denver can dominate the extra parts of the game it could get them off their rhythm. If the Suns dominate those areas, we could be in for a long one tonight. The Nuggets are usually a great team in preventing second-chance points, so they need to maintain that energy and take advantage of offensive rebounds on their end. With Chris Paul being out, it opens opportunities for Denver to force turnovers. It will assist the fast break opportunities, which they should capitalize on because the Suns are on the second night of a back-to-back.

Who wants it more?

The Suns do not need this game at all. They are secured in the 1st seed, but the Nuggets are not secure in their seed. Every game here on out is essential, especially against teams of this nature. I have no doubts that Phoenix will provide enough energy to win because they are a machine right now, but the Nuggets need to surpass that because Minnesota is inching very close to that 6th spot. Among Denver’s players, there should still be animosity over that series sweep in last year’s playoffs. In some aspects, this is a pride game for the Nuggets, so their energy and intensity will be interesting to watch.