The Denver Nuggets are battling their way through a less than stellar start to the season. What once began with dreams of a title has been marred by inconsistency and lousy defense. Still sitting at .500, the Nuggets are looking to build some momentum as they head out on a lengthy roadtrip. First stop? Phoenix where they’ll play two games against the up and coming Suns.

Phoenix’s start to the season is much more palatable. After missing out on the playoffs last year by the narrowest of margins, the Suns made a strong start to this season and positioned themselves nicely early on. The combination of young stars Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton and savvy, somehow still producing at a high level, Chris Paul has worked out fantastically for Phoenix. Throw in the improvement of their significant role players like Mikal Bridges and this team is certainly no one to sleep on.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (7-7) at Phoenix Suns (8-5)

When: 8PM 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. Claim to be a world renown archeologist who has confirmed Suns arena sits on top of the location of the Lost Dutchman’s mine. 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio.

Rival blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Position Nuggets Pacers Advantage
PG Monte Morris Malcolm Brogdon Pacers
SG Jamal Murray Justin Holiday Nuggets
SF Will Barton Doug McDermott Even
PF Michael Porter Jr. Domantas Sabonis Pacers
C Nikola Jokic Myles turner Nuggets
Bench P.J. Dozier, Zeke Nnaji, Isaiah Hartenstein, Vlatko Cancar T.J. McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, Edmond Sumner, Aaron Holiday Pacers

Player availability: Michael Porter Jr – questionable (health and safety), Greg Whittington – out (knee); Jalen Smith – available (health and safety), Dario Saric – out (health and safety), Damian Jones – out (health and safety).

Three things to watch for

Key matchup: Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Ayton

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The battle of the bigs should be a good one tonight. For the past couple games Ayton was the best player on the floor for Phoenix and the former number one overall pick is really rounding into form. He’s coming off a 26 point, 17 rebound, 5 block performance against the Rockets which followed an 18 and 16 night in the previous game. Ayton doesn’t have the defensive chops to slow Nikola (who does?) but he’s no doubt going to be a handful on the other end. Joker meanwhile continues his MVP campaign, averaging a triple double, leading the league in assists per game and still in the top five for steals per game as well. It should be noted that the last time these teams played Joker had one of his more pedestrian performances (it’s a joke, calm down) due to foul trouble, only mustering 17 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists.

Key point: The return of MPJ?

Michael Porter Jr is listed as questionable for tonight’s game. I’m not sure if that’s because he still has to go through a few more steps to clear protocol, or if the Nuggets want to see where his conditioning is at. If he does play, all Nuggets fans eyes will be on him. The main thing I’ll be watching for is how much rust there is. Not only will I be looking for rust from MPJ, but also from the rest of the team in terms of getting him involved on offense. Most of all, I’ll be watching to see if the return of MPJ, and his 6’10” frame, means the 4 guard lineups are finally going away.

Opening thought: This stretch makes or breaks some things

If Nikola Jokic is going to win MVP, if the Nuggets are going to be a top 3 seed in the West, then they need to have a strong couple weeks on the road. Seven of Denver’s next nine games are away from Ball Arena, go 4-5 on that stretch and you’re now under .500 with a third of the season gone. Meanwhile the gap between them and the Los Angeles teams will continue to widen. Denver needs to play strong on the road, it starts tonight in Phoenix.