The Denver Nuggets (29-26). who had an impressive three-game winning streak going, were sent crashing down to earth by the Houston Rockets as they were demolished last night, 130-104. The Nuggets’ young offensive stars were all silenced by the Rockets defense. Nikola Jokic had just 14 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, while guards Gary Harris and Jamal Murray combined for 14 points on 5-of-19 shooting. The Nuggets also went an abysmal 3-of-28 on 3-pointers as a team.
The Nuggets will now look to bounce back as they take on the Phoenix Suns (18-38), who were straight up embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs in a 129-81 shellacking. It matched the Suns’ heaviest ever defeat in franchise history, which they set this season in the opener against Portland. The Suns have now lost four games in a row and are a mere 4-14 in 2018. With Devin Booker still sidelined with a hip injury, the Suns' offense was completely lost. They shot just 34 percent from the field and 3-of-32 on 3-pointers.
Three keys to the game
Nuggets’ retaliation – Last night’s loss must have been a shock to the system for the Nuggets’ who had been playing so well over the last couple weeks. But after suffering such a heavy beatdown, it should be fair to expect some sort of reaction from the Nuggets and will want to do the same to the Suns. And as the Spurs showed, that’s entirely possible.
Elfrid Payton’s impact – Booker is still not ready to return, but Elfrid Payton might make his debut for the team. The young point guard was traded to Phoenix from the Orlando Magic and will have the opportunity to show what he can do for the remainder of the season. He’ll have a good chance to make a strong first impression as he takes on the Nuggets’ shaky defense.
Outside shooting – Both teams were remarkably ice-cold from beyond the arc in their respective losses recently. But while the Nuggets have the shooters who are fully capable of bouncing back, it’s not as clear-cut for the Suns, especially with Booker still missing. If Denver do rediscover their stroke from beyond the arc, Phoenix could find it tough to keep within striking distance.
Matchup to watch
Gary Harris vs Josh Jackson – Both Harris and Jackson had rough days at the office following heavy defeats. But prior to that, they had actually been two of the most in-form young wings around the league. Jackson, in particular, has been expanding his offensive game much more in recent weeks. He understandably didn’t pass the Spurs test, and he’ll have another big challenge matched up against Harris.
Nuggets projected starting lineup
PG – Jamal Murray | SG – Gary Harris | SF – Will Barton | PF – Wilson Chandler | C – Nikola Jokic
Suns projected starting lineup
PG – Elfrid Payton | SG – Josh Jackson | SF – TJ Warren | PF – Marquese Chriss | C – Tyson Chandler
Murray was held to just six points against the Rockets, his lowest scoring output in nearly three weeks. However, he immediately bounced back from that setback with the help of a 30-point performance against Phoenix. He should be a strong bet to come up with a similar showing given the Suns’ subpar defense against opposing point guards.
As for the Suns, Payton will be an intriguing fantasy pick if he plays. He’ll be eager to show what he’s got, and the Nuggets don’t exactly have a great track record of slowing down point guards either. Meanwhile, Dragan Bender will be another name to consider. The second-year big man has had a strong start to February, putting up 13.5 points and 6.3 rebounds on 51 percent shooting.
It's not looking good for the Suns at the moment. They're not even making games all that competitive. Of their last eight losses, seven have come by double-digits. While they did beat the Nuggets in Denver a couple weeks ago, Denver will be in no mood to play around following the humbling defeat they suffered last night. That's why taking the Nuggets and their high-powered offense to cover the seven-point spread on the road seems like the play.
The Nuggets bounce back in a big way as they blow out the Suns, 123-105.
This game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona and Altitude. Tip-off is at 9:00 pm Eastern.