Suns take on ailing Nuggets as stretch of road games continues
The Suns are off to a 3-8 start heading into Wednesday night's game against the struggling Nuggets in Denver, but at least one prominent observer thinks the record is not a true indication of where the team is headed.
“If you look four or five years ago with the Warriors, when Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) were really young, they hadn't quite turned the corner,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr — former general manager in Phoenix — told sfgate.com. “Eventually they did with (coach) Mark (Jackson), and getting (Andrew) Bogut, becoming a great defensive team. I like what the Suns are doing. It's a team that's going to be interesting to watch over the next couple years.”
The Suns have lost four of their last five — most recently a 133-120 loss to Kerr's Warriors in a game in which they held the lead well into the fourth quarter. Center Tyson Chandler returned to the lineup for Sunday's game after taking time away following his mother's death.
“Tyson brings a lot of fire,” Suns guard Devin Booker told The Arizona Republic. “He's a vocal leader for us. We need that. He's been there. In those tough games, he knows what to expect.”
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have lost four in a row after a promising 3-3 start, pushing them into last place in the Northwest Division, and they're facing a four-week stretch without starting shooting guard Gary Harris.
The game can be seen on FOX Sports Arizona and FOX Sports GO, starting at 6:30 p.m.
Harris, who began the season on the injured list due to a groin injury, suffered a foot injury in Denver's loss to Detroit on Saturday. He provides offense and strong perimeter defense, but what the Nuggets need right now is to find cohesion. That missing element is a little surprising because the team bonded during training camp in Omaha, Neb., and during a ton of time on the road during the preseason.
“It is surprising because you would think we'd have a better start because of how we got closer in training camp,” point guard Emmanuel Mudiay told The Denver Post. “We're closer as a team this year than we were last year off the court. But, on the court, we have to keep working. We have to stay together.”
Harris' absence at the start of the season was mitigated by Will Barton moving into the starting lineup. Barton, however, is nursing a severely sprained right ankle and coach Michael Malone said he could miss 4-6 weeks, which would put his return nearly at the end of November.
The injuries could give rookie Jamal Murray a chance to shine. He is shooting 44 percent from 3-point range over the last five games and seems to have settled down after a rough start offensively.
Injuries aside, Denver's Malone made another change to his starting lineup two games ago, inserting Kenneth Faried at power forward and bringing Nikola Jokic off the bench. It hasn't produced a win, but the hope is it will soon.
“I think I need to have more fun out there,” Jokic told The Denver Post. “I think I just need to relax more. And then everything will be a little better.”
Tonight is the second of six consecutive road games for the Suns, although the team did return to Phoenix after Sunday's game in Oakland. After Denver, they'll play at Indiana, Philadelphia, Washington and Orlando before returning home for a Nov. 25 game vs. Minnesota.
The Suns have had one of the more balanced offenses in the league and are one of only four teams with three players — Devin Booker (20.2 points per game),T.J. Warren (20.0) and Eric Bledsoe (18.4) — averaging in excess of 18 points. The other are Golden State, Cleveland and Minnesota.
Like Golden State's Kerr, Suns coach Earl Watson likened the trajectory of his team to the Warriors.
“Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson,” Watson said. “Five years from now, you're going to say Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren, Devin Booker.”