The Denver Nuggets host the Phoenix Suns in a rematch of last year’s second round of the Western Conference playoffs. While the Nuggets have stepped up again this year, Phoenix has struggled trying to integrate the oft-injured Bradley Beal and the Suns need a nice little win streak to end the season to avoid the play-in tournament. The Nuggets meanwhile are fighting for the number one seed and home court throughout the playoffs, which makes this a matchup of two teams that know each other well and both craving a victory. Denver is hosting this little party, though, and the Suns just lost to the San Antonio Spurs who also did not have Victor Wembanyama in the lineup; Phoenix will need to show up with pride on the line to wrest this one from Denver.

The Essentials

Who: Denver Nuggets (51-21) vs Phoenix Suns (42-30)

When: 8:00PM MDT

Where: The Can. Denver, CO.

How to watch/listen: Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy….unless it’s the romanticized 18th century type. ESPN, Altitude TV where available (Altitude TV is on DirecTV, DirecTV Stream and Fubo TV). NBA League pass for those not in the Nuggets market. Altitude Radio 92.5. Bring Zeke a cold compress for his adductors.

Rival blog: Bright Side of the Sun

Injury Report: Nikola Jokic – probable (back), Michael Porter Jr. – probable (illness), Jamal Murray – questionable (right knee inflammation), Aaron Gordon – questionable (right plantar fascia strain), Zeke Nnaji – out (adductor), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Bradley Beal – questionable (finger), Jusuf Nurkic – questionable (right ankle sprain)

The Three Things

The thing to watch for: Nikola Jokic vs whichever center plays for Phoenix

Jusuf Nurkic is questionable for this game, but he always seems to find a way to play against Denver with a point to prove. That’s not to say he plays well all the time though – mostly he comes out trying to rough up Jokic and gets himself in foul trouble. If that happens again, assuming he plays at all, the Suns have the 6’9 Drew Eubanks and two-way contract player Udoka Azubuike to try to contain Nikola in every single aspect. Phoenix doesn’t have the size to throw at Denver so they’ll have to dedicate more bodies if and when Nurkic shows again that he cannot handle the MVP, and what Phoenix decides to do about that problem will determine how Jokic – and therefore Denver – attacks them. Nikola has averaged [Edit: 23 points, 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists, previous stats were from last year] in the two games so far against the Suns, and Denver badly choked away a huge lead in the last game against Phoenix for one of their two post-All-Star-Break losses. The Nuggets remember that, and history is unlikely to repeat. If Phoenix wants this game, figuring out how to survive Jokic is crucial.

The thing to remember: Desperate teams are dangerous teams

Phoenix had a double shock the past couple days: the Los Angeles Lakers without LeBron James beat the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Suns faceplanted in that terrible loss to the Spurs. That swing leaves the Suns only two games up on the Lakers for the 8th spot, and it’s the Lakers who own the tie-breaker. Phoenix is also only two losses back of the 5th seed, so every single game down the stretch for them matters in terms of playoff seeding as well as avoiding the play-in. The Suns only face (good) playoff teams the rest of the way and have their next 3 on the road, so if they can’t find a way to steal games they’re gonna be in serious trouble when it comes to seeding. Denver may not be where they want to make their stand, but beggars can’t be choosers and Denver needs to be ready for a focused and desperate Phoenix squad that had much loftier goals this season than they’re currently facing.

The thing to bet: Michael Porter Jr over 17.5 (-105)

This is not scientific, but look: Mike got a dog named Grape. Bet the over.