Preview: Denver Nuggets look to bounce back against Phoenix Suns

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyroNBA

There is no time to dwell on past results over the course of an NBA regular season.

Despite putting up a valiant effort Friday night against the Chicago Bulls, the shorthanded Denver Nuggets fell for the third game in a row, as the team wasn’t able to pull off an upset without reigning MVP Nikola Jokić, who was out due to a wrist sprain.

MORE: Takeaways from loss to Chicago

Denver (9-7) has had to navigate a slew of injuries throughout the month, and a schedule consisting of matchups against playoff contenders certainly hasn’t made life any easier for the Mile High squad. That schedule only picks up throughout the rest of the month, beginning with Sunday’s road contest against the Phoenix Suns.

Phoenix (12-3) is the hottest team in the league, having won 11 consecutive games. Fueled by a top-three defense, the Suns are replicating a similar formula to last season, which saw them get within two victories of an NBA championship. Over the past two weeks, Phoenix owns the league’s top-ranked defense, per Cleaning the Glass.

Denver won the first meeting between these two teams back on opening night.

INJURY REPORT:

JAMAL MURRAY – LEFT KNEE INJURY RECOVERY. OUT.

VLATKO ČANČAR – G LEAGUE ASSIGNMENT. OUT.

MICHAEL PORTER JR. – LOW BACK PAIN. OUT.

ZEKE NNAJI – RIGHT ANKLE SPRAIN. OUT.

NIKOLA JOKIC – RIGHT WRIST SPRAIN. QUESTIONABLE.

TUNE-IN: 6 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Defending in the mid-range

Any team that is led by Chris Paul is going to take a healthy amount of mid-range jumpers.

This year’s Suns squad is certainly following that game plan on offense, ranking second in the frequency of their shot attempts coming from the mid-range (39.1 percent). The Suns have also hit 44.8 percent of those shots, good for the third-best field-goal percentage in the mid-range this season.

Conversely, Phoenix rarely gets to the rim (just 27.5 percent of total shot attempts) and doesn’t prioritize attempts from deep as much compared to the league average (33.4 percent of attempts).

Denver’s defense has focused on inviting mid-range shots in order to limit shot attempts from downtown and inside the paint. Opponents have taken 33.7 percent of their shot attempts from the mid-range and have connected on 40.4 percent of those attempts. It will certainly be an adjustment for the Nuggets Sunday night when matching up against the Suns’ offense.

Push in transition

As mentioned earlier, Phoenix has been locking teams down on the defensive end this season, especially over the past two weeks.

A big portion of that success can be credited to the Suns’ half-court defense, where they rank second in opponent points per 100 half-court possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. Phoenix has been effective in forcing turnovers, limiting offensive rebounds, and avoiding fouls.

However, the Suns have struggled when defending in transition this season, as 17.1 percent of opponent possessions have begun with a transition play, and Phoenix ranks 26th in opponent points added per 100 possessions through transition play. Denver has struggled to convert on its transition opportunities, but the Nuggets rank eighth in the frequency of possessions beginning with a transition play, which should be a key to their attack Sunday night.

Let it fly from deep

The Suns’ defense has excelled in limiting shot attempts at the rim this season, but Phoenix has been slightly more vulnerable from beyond the arc.

Opponents have taken 36.9 percent of their shot attempts from deep against the Suns, right around the league average rate. Those shots have gone in at a 36 percent clip, which is the 10th-highest percentage in the league.

In their 110-98 victory on opening night, Denver shot 17-of-39 (43.6 percent) from deep against Phoenix, and a repeat performance would certainly be a welcomed sight for the shorthanded Nuggets. Although Denver has struggled from deep throughout the season, Sunday’s matchup could be a timely opportunity to find a rhythm from downtown.

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