Suns hope to continue to play good defense against Nuggets
PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns will put their improved defense on display Sunday afternoon when they seek to avenge an earlier high-scoring loss to the Denver Nuggets in a duel of struggling Western Conference teams.
The Suns are coming off a 98-85 home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, a game in which they blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead.
Despite the loss, the Suns held a second consecutive opponent below 100 points after having allowed 14 of the first 15 to reach the figure.
In the process, the Suns have gone from the bottom of the NBA rankings in points allowed to the fourth worst at 111.7 per game.
“The mindset we have to play with and understand how to win in this league, a lot of it is defensive,” Suns coach Earl Watson explained to the media last week. “There are great offensive teams, but the defense carries you throughout the season.”
The Phoenix defense failed to show up for the earlier meeting with the Nuggets in Denver. The Suns allowed the Nuggets to shoot 48.4 percent from the field and 47.1 percent (8 of 17) on 3-pointers in a 120-104 loss on Nov. 16.
The Suns were led in that game by reserve Wilson Chandler, who made half of his 22 shots from the field and two of his three 3-pointers on a 28-point night.
Chandler has since been promoted to the starting lineup as the Nuggets have had a hard time finding healthy bodies. They suited up only 10 players in Friday's 132-129 overtime loss at home to Oklahoma City.
Chandler was even better against the Thunder than the Suns, posting a season-high 30 points. Jameer Nelson also had season highs for points (21) and assists (13) in the loss.
Among the players missing for the Nuggets on Friday were Will Barton and Mike Miller, both of whom were excused from the team for personal reasons.
It is unclear how long they will be out, as is the case with Danilo Gallinari, who is questionable for Sunday's game with a strained thigh.
The Suns also had a player away for personal reasons when Tyson Chandler missed eight of nine games after the death of his mother.
The league's sixth-leading rebounder returned for Friday's home loss to Minnesota but was limited to 11 minutes off the bench, during which he contributed six points and seven rebounds.
Chandler and Len combined for 12 points and nine rebounds out of the center position in the earlier matchup with the Nuggets.
Like the Suns (5-12), the Nuggets (6-10) let one get away Friday night when they squandered a late 13-point lead in regulation en route to their overtime loss to the Thunder.
“I thought we played well enough offensively for sure to win the game,” Nelson noted to reporters afterward. “We just couldn't get stops when we needed them.”
The Nuggets-Suns matchup pits two of the NBA's rising stars, University of Kentucky products Jamal Murray and Devin Booker.
Phoenix's Booker, who turned 20 on Oct. 30, logged 1,078 NBA points as a teenager, the sixth most in league history behind LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard.
Denver's Murray, meanwhile, is the active scoring leader among teens, averaging 10.6 points per game as a 19-year-old. The Suns' Marquese Chriss, also 19, ranks third on that list at 6.2.