Monday, January 18

Suns bring NBA’s best defense to Denver

The Phoenix Suns said goodbye to 2020 with a 106-95 win over the Utah Jazz on Thursday night in Salt Lake City. On Friday, they will attempt to reach 2021 with a road win over the Denver Nuggets.

The Suns have won four of their first five games of the season while working seamlessly with veteran Chris Paul in the lineup. He is averaging 11.6 points and 9.2 assists and is one of six Phoenix players to score in double figures.

More impressive than offense is Phoenix’s defense. The Suns hold their opponents at the NBA-leading 97.8 points per game after allowing 113.4 points per game last season.

It’s encouraging, but Phoenix coach Monty Williams isn’t ready to celebrate.

” It’s too early to get caught up in that, but we like where we are,” Williams said after a win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday night. ” It’s something we feel we can hang our hats on. Several of our players have talked about it to the extent that our identity has to be on the defensive side.”

Phoenix faces a Denver team looking for the defensive intensity that led to two straight playoff appearances. The Nuggets rank 29th in the league in defensive efficiency rating and are allowing teams to score 15.3 3-pointers per game, the fourth-worst rating in the NBA.

” Twenty-ninth in the league on defense sounds horrible,” Denver forward Paul Millsap said Thursday. “Once we decide we want to be a good defensive team, that’s when we convert.”

The Nuggets defense could get a boost Friday if JaMychal Green is ready to make his team debut. Green, who joined Denver as a free agent in November, has been sidelined due to a left calf strain. He practiced Thursday and was listed as questionable for the Phoenix game.

” We signed JaMychal because he’s a guy who’s been through the NBA wars,” coach Michael Malone said Thursday.

The Nuggets are also hoping Jamal Murray can give it a try Friday night. Murray struggled to start the season, but found his hit midway through a Christmas night loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, and finished that contest with 23 points. After a 21-point effort in a win over the Houston Rockets on Monday, he was left out of Denver’s Tuesday loss in Sacramento due to a bruised elbow.

Murray was listed as probable for Friday.

However, the Nuggets will be missing forward Michael Porter Jr., who will be out due to the league’s COVID-19 protocols, according to various reports on Friday.

Denver will need everyone against a deep and confident Phoenix team, and it will need to clean up its 3-point defense. The Suns were 19 of 47 (40.4 percent) from long range against the Pelicans, then 17 of 33 (51.5 percent) from beyond the arc in Utah.

Phoenix has snipers throughout the lineup, led by Devin Booker, who can score from the entire court.

Booker is averaging 20.2 points per game despite scoring just eight against New Orleans. Paul contributed just nine points in that win.

” If you can win a game like that and only play Book and Chris for no more than 25 minutes, I think it gives the other guys confidence,” Williams said. ” We know who our two best players are, and there is no question about that.”

–Field level media

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