The Phoenix Suns had lost six in a row and nine of 10, and were facing a Golden State team with Stephen Curry back in the lineup. Add to that center Deandre Ayton was unable to go for Phoenix and a Suns loss seemed likely. Instead, Phoenix stunned the Warriors on Tuesday night to stop their downward spiral.
The Suns’ reward? A trip to Denver to face the Western Conference-leading Nuggets on Wednesday night.
It will be the second of four meetings between the teams and the first since Denver won in overtime on Christmas night. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic had a 41-point, 15-rebound, 15-assist triple-double in that one, and the two-time MVP hasn’t slowed down, either. He took only five shots — and made all of them — for his league-leading 11th triple-double of the season in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night.
He had a season-high 16 assists in the 122-109 victory.
“He’s always looking to pass over score,” said Jamal Murray, who scored a season-high 34 points in the game.
Murray took another big step in his return to full health in the win over the Lakers. He was more aggressive than he had been earlier in the season and he showed some swagger in reaching his season high in points.
“It’s not just the scoring I look for,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “I look for where is his effort level and focus on the defensive end? Where is his rebounding at? I mean, he’s a big, strong guard. Where is his playmaking at?
“On top of all those things, just a body language and energy and attack mindset and swagger, whatever you want to call it. But you can see when he’s got it.”
Phoenix has a little swagger after beating the defending champs on the road. In addition to Ayton sitting, the Suns don’t have Devin Booker (groin), Chris Paul (hip) or Cameron Payne (foot) on the trip. Landry Shamet (hip) didn’t play but could play Wednesday night.
The numerous injuries forced coach Monty Williams to use his 14th different starting lineup of the season but it fuels his competitiveness.
“That’s part of what drives you,” he said. “When people look at your team and they doubt you or they say you don’t have this or have that, it’s like yeah, I want to.”
Booker has been sidelined for all but four minutes since scoring 58 points against New Orleans on Dec. 17. He sat out the next three games but returned for the first matchup with Denver, only to leave early in the first quarter.
He is expected to miss at least two more weeks.
The Nuggets can extend their home winning streak to 12 games by beating a short-handed opponent for the second straight game. LeBron James sat out Monday’s game with a left ankle injury and Anthony Davis is on the injured list.
Denver has learned not to take a wounded team lightly, however.
“My message to my players was, it’s not about who’s available for them, it’s us, protecting our home court,” Malone said.
–Field Level Media