Suns Travel to Denver for Final Preseason Game

Barry Gossage/NBAE

Less than 24 hours after facing one of the more respected NBA coaches in Scott Brooks, Suns Head Coach Jeff Hornacek will match clipboards against a fellow former player and rookie play-caller in Denver’s Brian Shaw.

Both of them begin their coaching careers facing large amounts of roster turnover. Denver traded away star wing player Andre Iguodala to Golden State. Danilo Gallinari is out hurt. They are incorporating new pieces, included J.J. Hickson, Darrell Arthur and Randy Foye.

SUNS at NUGGETS

When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.

Where: Pepsi Center

TV: None

Radio: Arizona Sports 620

Such heavy change wasn’t ideal for a Nuggets team that finished first in scoring, second in rebounding and third in assists per game a season ago. They won 57 games in 2012-13, fourth-best in the league.

That success has given way to change and, subsequently, question marks. Can young big men Javale McGee and Kenneth Faried make significant progress as players this season? Was Ty Lawson’s postseason (21.3 points, 8.0 assists, 3.3 rebounds per game) a sign that he can carry the team moving forward? How much will the defense miss Iguodala and since-departed Corey Brewer?

The preseason answers have been mixed. They split a two-game set against the Lakers, edged the Spurs by four, got blown out at Oklahoma City and lost in overtime to the Clippers. Different players have performed well on different nights, mirroring the musical chairs of minutes and roles as Shaw evaluates his roster.

Denver has had three days off between games to make something of those results. Phoenix is coming off a bench-fueled 88-76 win last night. Wednesday night’s game should give an idea as to which team has a better handle on its identity.

KEY MATCHUP

ESPN and Grantland.com’s Bill Simmons recently included Lawson and Eric Bledsoe as two of the top five fastest players in the league. It’s likely the two will be matched up on Wednesday, especially if Goran Dragic is held out again to keep his ankle injury from further aggravation.

Lawson was drafted one year before Bledsoe, and the two are both pegged for breakout seasons thanks to increased responsibilities for their respective teams. With the preseason nearly done, expect the matchup to play out very close to a regular season tilt.

OPPONENT X-FACTOR

Denver has not shot the ball well in the preseason, hitting just 40.6 percent of their shot attempts and 26 percent of their three-point tries.

The cold shooting has extended to their big men. Between them, McGee and Faried have hit over 50 percent of their field goals in just three out of a combined nine appearances (Faried did not play against the Clippers).

Phoenix had been giving up 45 percent shooting to their opponents until last night’s showing against the Thunder, who they held to a 38.5 percent clip. If the Suns can take another positive step on the defensive end, it should greatly boost their chances against an already struggled Nuggets team.

FINAL THOUGHT

Are the Suns a sneaky good rebounding team? They’ve out-boarded all but one of their preseason

opponents, all of whom featured elite glass-eaters: the Thunder (Serge Ibaka), Blazers (LeMarcus Aldridge), Kings (DeMarcus Cousins) and Spurs (Tim Duncan).

Phoenix hasn’t done its work conventionally, either. Against Oklahoma City, five Suns finished with at least five rebounds in limited minutes, with four others snaring at least three boards apiece. Even more impressive was the fact that all 13 Suns who played on Tuesday grabbed at least one offensive rebound.

Hornacek has preached “effort first” from day one, which goes hand-in-hand with waiting for the offense to develop. Tuesday’s win proved as much. Phoenix struggled to hit wide-open looks, but countered their poor shooting with hustle, especially on the boards, and that was good enough for the win.