Preview: Denver Nuggets take on Phoenix Suns aiming for first three-game win streak of the season

by Alex Labidou
Nuggets.com Staff Writer
@LabidouA

The Denver Nuggets (8-7) finally got over .500 for the first time in the 2020-21 campaign with their win over the Phoenix Suns (8-6) Friday night. The Nuggets will now be searching for their first three-game win streak of the campaign as they conclude their unique away-away back-to-back against the Suns at Phoenix Suns Arena.

READ MORE: Nuggets edge Suns in OT Thriller

Projected Starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, and Nikola Jokić

Here are the storylines to watch for:

Getting off to a better start

The Nuggets have had themselves in double-digit holes in both encounters against the Suns this season. Although they were able to rally back in each game, their season series is currently 1-1. Denver can’t afford another slow start against Phoenix, especially with the two teams reuniting less than 24 hours from Friday’s matchup.

Defense was the foundation of both rallies. Phoenix has shot 53.8 percent, including 43.2 percent from downtown, in the first half in its two matchups against Denver. In the second half, those numbers dip to 45.7 percent and 31.3 percent on threes. Honing in on Phoenix’s three-point shooters early on could be a difference-maker for coach Michael Malone’s team.

Key Matchup: Will Barton III vs. Mikal Bridges

The impact of Denver’s renewed defensive focus in the second half was apparent in Mikal Bridges’ performance.

The Suns small forward was cooking in the first half, hitting 5 of 5 attempts from deep on his way to scoring 17 points in the opening 24 minutes. As the Nuggets focused on denying the Suns’ shooters from having space in the second half, Bridges was kept at bay and only hit one more triple. Will Barton III was part of a team effort in slowing the young forward down.

Barton III was also effective on the other end, especially in the second half and overtime. After finishing the first half with just three points, the swingman would add another 14 during that stretch. He was clutch at the charity stripe in overtime, hitting 6 of 6, and scoring a team-high eight points in to close out the win.

Attack the paint again

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The Nuggets took advantage of the Suns’ recent defensive struggles by putting up a whopping 80 points in the paint Friday. According to the NBA’s advanced stats, Nikola Jokić scored 77.4 percent of his 27 points in the paint. He wasn’t alone in dominating in that area.

Jamal Murray (66.7), Gary Harris (63.2), and Paul Millsap (66.7) shared similar levels of success. Although Phoenix will likely watch the tape and make adjustments, the Nuggets should continue to attack the rim until the Suns stop them. It should open up long-range shooting opportunities for the visitors.

 

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