The Denver Nuggets are at long last back in action…sort of. Tonight the Nuggets kick off the 2023 preseason with perhaps their biggest threat to repeat as champions: the Phoenix Suns. Phoenix and Denver are widely accepted as the top two teams in the Western Conference and the Nuggets preseason is sure to open with a bang. Denver comes in as the team who won the title with a strategy of draft, develop and extend. Meanwhile, Phoenix used that strategy initially before switching course to trading for star players. Gone are the likes of Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and DeAndre Ayton and in their place is Kevin Durant, Bradley Beal and Jusuf Nurkic. The Suns also used a flurry of offseason moves to revamp their bench unit, a major weakness in their second round series loss to the Nuggets. Perhaps a bit undersized off the bench, the Suns managed to load up on shooting with key additions like Yuta Watanabe, Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen.

The Basics

Who: Denver Nuggets (0-0) at Phoenix Suns (1-0)

When: 8 PM MDT.

Where: The Footprint Center, Phoenix AZ.

How to watch/listen:  Denver Stiffs does not condone piracy…unless its the romanticized 18th-century type. TNT for television. Altitude Radio 92.5FM. Tell Matt Ishbia you’ll pay half of Mel Tucker’s salary in exchange for courtside seats.

Rival Blog: Bright Side of the Sun

The Matchup

Injury report: Christian Braun – questionable (calf); Jamal Murray – questionable (hamstring); Michael Porter Jr. – doubtful (ankle), Vlatko Cancar – out (knee); Ish Wainwright – out (calf); Jordan Goodwin – out (hamstring); Damion Lee – out (knee).

The Three Things

What to watch for: rotation, rotation, rotation.

Michael Malone has already come out and said that he’s going to only play the starters around a half for the first game and Michael Porter Jr. is unlikely to play. Still, this will actually help give quite the insight into what the Nuggets rotation will look like to open the season. We already know who the five starters are, that’s set in stone, but we’re probably only sure about two bench players (Christian Braun and Reggie Jackson). Backup small forward is one of the biggest questions for the Nuggets going into the season and who Malone chooses to start against Phoenix is probably going to be a strong hint on who he has penciled into the rotation for about 20 minutes on opening night. My money is on Justin Holiday. Backup big is another role that is up for grabs. The Suns don’t have any true bigs to speak of off their bench now that Jock Landale plays in Houston so I’d expect to see Malone go small, perhaps using a combination of Peyton Watson and Zeke Nnaji to get rest for Nikola Jokic and Aaron Gordon.

What to remember: These guys are all coming off of being eliminated by Denver for the first time

Up until last summer the Nuggets hadn’t beat the Phoenix Suns in a playoff series since 1983. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker had never lost a playoff series to the Denver Nuggets. I’m guessing the series loss to Denver is still fresh in a lot of guys minds over in Phoenix, including their ball snatching owner Matt Ishbia. Then there’s the whole Jusuf Nurkic angle and there’s also the two best teams in the West factor to consider here as well. Don’t be surprised if you see some more intense than usual gameplay early on in this one that feels closer to the regular season than the preseason. Inevitably it will calm down and most everyone who will play the second half of this game on both teams wasn’t involved in the playoff series. Still, I’m looking forward to even just a taste of what’s to come between these two championship contenders.

What to bet: Nuggets moneyline (+135)

My general rule is: stop gambling on preseason you masochists! It’s so hard to predict what will happen in a preseason game because the variance in rotation minutes from one night to the next is very large. If you must put some scratch down on this game to make yourself care in the middle of the 4th quarter when Colin Gillespie is isoing Saben Lee, then I guess you might as well bet the Nuggets moneyline. Like I said, it’s quite impossible to predict what will happen which makes this basically a coin flip of a bet so you might as well take the plus money on a Nuggets victory. Will they win? Who knows, and who cares…except you while you scream at the television as Souley Boum hoists a contested midrange jumper in crunch time.