Can Nuggets Stop Streaking Phoenix Suns?

Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone reacts in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Ball Arena on 25 Oct. 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports)
Denver Nuggets head coach Michael Malone reacts in the second quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Ball Arena on 25 Oct. 2021. (Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports) /

Tonight, the Nuggets play the scorching Phoenix Suns, winners of 11 straight. Is there anything the Nuggs can do to stop them and break their own 3-game losing streak?

The most obvious would be putting a healthy Nikola Jokic on the court. If it were up to Jokic, he would probably push to play through his wrist injury, but Coach Michael Malone says he only wants the MVP back when fully healthy.

With or without Jokic, the Nuggets need to play with the same intensity they showed on Friday night against the Chicago Bulls. In spite of finishing on the wrong end of that contest, Malone said he appreciated his team picking up the energy after the previous night’s lackluster effort against the undermanned Philadelphia 76ers.

In Mike Singer’s article from the Denver Post, Malone addressed the performance against the 76ers at a press conference prior to playing the Bulls.

"“All I can hope for (Friday) is that when we walk out of here, we can hold our heads high with how we competed, and we couldn’t do that (Thursday). That was probably the most bothersome thing about last night’s game. It wasn’t that we lost. It was the way in which we lost.”"

Malone didn’t specifically address why the Nuggets played in slow motion in the loss to the 76ers. Did they overlook an opponent playing without its biggest stars? Perhaps it was because of the most obvious reason.

Well, it’s impossible to overlook Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Deandre Ayton and Co. Especially right now.

The Nuggets without MPJ and Jamal Murray aren’t going to outshoot the Suns. So far this season, the Nuggs have been inconsistent shooting. Some nights hot, some nights decent — and others ice cold.

Where they have played consistently, until the 76ers game, has been on defense.

In the season opener in Phoenix, the Nuggets held the Suns to 98 points. The Suns have scored less than 100 points only one other game this season, a 99-96 win against the T-Wolves (who’ve been coming on strong).

The Suns have been playing their best ball in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN, putting several teams away late, including the Mavs in their last game.

That means the Nuggets have to play feisty defense all four quarters and the bench has to play a major role keeping everyone fresh.

Presuming Jokic is still healing and sits, Coach Malone will probably go with the same starting five: Monte Morris and Austin Rivers in the backcourt, along with Will Barton, Aaron Gordon and Jeff Green in the front court.

Aaron Gordon threw the defensive glove on Booker most of the season opener, holding the All-Star to 3-15 from the floor, including 2-7 from 3-point range. That needs to happen again.

As far as the bench goes, which combo could prove their best defensive unit? Especially against such a premier perimeter shooting team, I’d like to see Malone give heavy minutes to this group off the bench: Facundo Campazzo, Bones Hyland, P.J. Dozier, JaMychal Green and Bol Bol.

The length of the latter four, particularly Bol, can alter shots all over the court. Meanwhile, Campazzo is a pest known to irritate potent scorers into fits.

The Suns are shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range (Nuggets are at 31.7 percent), so it will be imperative to fight over screens, knock them off their spots and gets hands in the face.

Let’s hope Jokic brings his stepped up D back. Regardless, the Nuggets have to look like the team they did against the Bulls rather than the one that showed up against the 76ers.

Next. Did Embiid duck Jokic in head-to-head matchup?. dark