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Game Preview: What to Watch For in the Nuggets Game vs. the Suns

by Christopher Dempsey
Nuggets Insider
@chrisadempsey

After being yanked in and out of town in for the first half of the month of January, the Nuggets start a stretch of 10 straight days at home with Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns.

This is the start of five straight games at the Pepsi Center, three of which are against teams under .500. This is the Nuggets’ second game against the Suns. They beat them handily, 134-111 back on Jan. 3.

Part of the Nuggets’ winning formula that night was limiting Suns guard Devin Booker to 17 points on 4-of-13 shooting.

“It’s not an easy task, because even when you think you have him under wraps, under control, he has that kind of spurtability, if you will,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “He can just get going. It just takes one shot for him.

“But I think Gary (Harris) did a tremendous job covering him. I think Wilson Chandler did a great job covering T.J. Warren. We made them work for everything. … We had three great quarters of defense that game.”

What else do the Nuggets need to do in order to get a victory? Start with these…

Keep Gary Harris rolling: There is no Nuggets player playing better basketball on both ends than Gary Harris. His numbers in January: 21.9 points, 3.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 57.3 percent from the field and 43.2 percent from the 3-point line. He is on fire on both ends of the court. Harris is playing some of his best basketball when the Nuggets have needed it most, when the playoff race in the Western Conference has tightened considerably. Harris’ movement on the offensive end helps keep the Nuggets offense flowing. He had 36 points against the Suns in the first meeting between the two teams. Keeping him rolling against the Suns would be a big boost.

Beware of steals: Sometimes there are statistical oddities that are difficult to explain. Here’s one: In the last six games, in which the Suns have lost five, here are their steal splits. At home, they are averaging 4.3 steals per game. On the road in this same span, Phoenix is averaging 9.3 steals per game. Yes, 9.3. That’s a ton. Why a five-steal difference between home and road? That’s almost impossible to explain. But it should put the Nuggets on high alert that making good decisions is a must.

Slow down Dragan Bender: What? Yes. Overall, it hasn’t been the career start expected out of Dragan Bender, who arrived last season from Croatia with a lot of fanfare, but he’s had a definite impact off the bench for Suns of late, and he bears watching. Bender, in the last six games, is shooting 42.9 percent from the 3-point line, is making 2.5 per game and shooting almost six, and is playing 30 minutes a game. Bender is also averaging 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists in this span.

INJURY REPORT: Paul Millsap (wrist) is out. Jamal Murray (concussion protocol) is questionable for the game.

Christopher Dempsey: christopher.dempsey@altitude.tv and @chrisadempsey on Twitter