The Denver Nuggets are coming off a disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite being on the road on the second night of a back to back on Wednesday, the Nuggets had set themselves up for an impressive victory only to let it get away from them in the waning moments of the game. The loss was Denver’s fifth in their last seven games. Tonight, the Nuggets will be well rested and back at home. They’ll also have one of their easier opponents in the Phoenix Suns.

Meanwhile, the Suns have also lost five of their last seven. Really, Phoenix’s season was over almost before it began. Comprised of mostly young, but promising, talent mixed with a few veterans here and there, Phoenix was a dark horse playoff contender at the beginning of the season but hasn’t lived up to that billing. Head coach Earl Watson was fired just three games into the season and point guard Eric Bledsoe was shipped off to the Milwaukee Bucks in a messy breakup. Still, there’s reason to be optimistic about the Suns. They have a young scoring dynamo in Devin Booker, a pair of intriguing and promising bigs in Marquese Chriss (who is injured) and Dragan Bender, and T.J. Warren has vaulted himself from ho-hum player to a major part of any opposition’s gameplan. Nonetheless, Denver is the better team and needs to secure this victory at home.

The Basics

Who: Phoenix Suns (16-29) at Denver Nuggets (23-22)

When: 7:00PM MST

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM 950

Rival blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Position Nuggets Suns Advantage
PG Will Barton Tyler Ulis Nuggets
SG Gary Harris Devin Booker Even
SF Wilson Chandler T.J. Warren Suns
PF Nikola Jokic Dragan Bender Nuggets
C Mason Plumlee Tyson Chandler Even
Bench Emmanuel Mudiay,Trey Lyles, Malik Beasley, Kenneth Faried, Richard Jefferson Alex Len, Isaiah Canaan, Troy Daniels, Josh Jackson Even

Injured players: Jamal Murray – questionable (concussion), Paul Millsap – out (wrist), T.J. Warren – questionable (hip), Danuel House – questionable (illness), Marquese Chriss – out (hip), Alan Williams – out (knee), Brandon Knight – out (knee)

Key matchup: Will Barton or Jamal Murray vs. Tyler Ulis

Will Barton is 6’6” tall, Jamal Murray is 6’4” tall, Tyler Ulis is generously listed at 5’ 10” (I’ve stood next to him, he ain’t 5’10”). If there is one matchup the Nuggets need to exploit tonight it is that one. Barton of course has struggled with his shot as of late, something that has been attributed to him thinking more about being a distributor while on the court, at least according to Michael Malone. While the Nuggets still need Barton to be their primary distributor if Murray is unable to play, tonight is one of those games where it still might be best for Barton to go into score first mode. If it’s Murray, he had a tough night shooting, particularly from three, the last time he faced his former teammate, I’d expect him to be looking to make a point. With Chriss out Phoenix also offers little in the way of rim protection (this isn’t your older brother’s Tyson Chandler) and with their superior size, Barton and Murray should be able to get whatever they wants against Ulis.

Key thing to watch for: Will Murray play?

Emmanuel Mudiay saw a return to action against the Clippers with Murray out. One would expect him to see minutes tonight as well if Jamal can’t go. Mudiay is going to have a clear size advantage over Ulis like Barton and Murray do, and Isaiah Canaan isn’t much bigger so Mudiay should be able to do what he does best: power his way into the lane. Against the Clippers, Emmanuel gave the Nuggets solid, though not spectacular minutes and didn’t hurt the team. If he can do just that, he’ll find minutes, whether its this squad or another. If Murray can go, he’ll let Barton return to the bench which is where he can be utilized best. It will also be interesting to see if Emmanuel’s play on Wednesday can earn him some minutes regardless of whether or not Murray plays. That would allow Barton to play the wing exclusively, which would be a big bonus for Denver.

Opening thought: No excuses

This is a must win. It’s not a must-win in the sense that losing this game will put the Nuggets out of playoff contention, far from it in fact, but it’s a must win in the sense that the Nuggets have come out flat and played down to their competition for two weeks now. THERE IS ZERO EXCUSE TO LOSE THIS GAME! If the Nuggets come out flat, or piss away another lead in the fourth quarter tonight then it’s time for everyone to take a hard look at themselves and this team. That goes for everyone, from the players, to the coaching staff and all the way up to the front office.

Prediction: Suns 104 – Nuggets 118

Shoot around audio – Michael Malone, Jamal Murray

Pregame press conference: Michael Malone, Jay Triano