Time: The Suns host the Nuggets on Monday at 7 p.m. at US Airways Center.
Records: Suns 22-41 (fourth in the Pacific Division) vs. Denver 42-22 (second in the Northwest Division)
PG: Goran Dragic (14.2 points and 6.9 assists) vs. Ty Lawson (17.0 points and 7.1 assists)
SG: P.J. Tucker (5.5 points and 4.1 rebounds) vs. Andre Iguodala (13.0 points and 5.3 rebounds)
SF: Jared Dudley (11.2 points and 3.3 rebounds) vs. Danilo Gallinari (16.6 points and 5.3 rebounds)
PF: Luis Scola (12.5 points and 6.3 rebounds) vs. Kenneth Faried (11.9 points and 9.6 rebounds)
C: Marcin Gortat: (11.1 points and 8.5 rebounds) vs. Kosta Koufos (8.1 points and 6.6 rebounds)
On the March
The Nuggets come into Phoenix one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They seek their ninth-straight victory when the two squads tip off tonight.
Denver has topped 100 points in 22 of its last 23 games and scored at least 104 in each of the past nine contests. The Nuggets are averaging 111.3 points on 53-percent shooting during their win streak, including an impressive 25 fast-break points per game.
“We’re going to try not to turn the ball over,” Suns Head Coach Lindsey Hunter said. “You cannot give those guys run-outs. They run better than anybody in this league.”
In order for the Suns to be successful against Denver, they are going to have to contain Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson, who was named Western Conference Player of the Week last week. The award did nothing to satisfy Lawson, who has showed no signs of slowing down since receiving it.
On Saturday, Lawson tied a season high by pouring in 32 points in a home win over the Wolves. He drilled 12-of-17 from the floor, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
In his last 13 games, the lightning-quick playmaker has averaged 24.2 points, while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 41 percent from behind the arc. Lawson has also dished out 7.7 assists in that stretch.
However, the last time he played the Suns, Lawson was held to 12 points and eight assists in a road loss. In that game, Suns point guard Goran Dragic scored 21 points on 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range to lead seven Suns players in double figures.
“If we can limit him to just 12 points, that would be great,” Hunter said of Lawson. “I think the way that he’s playing, the pace that he’s playing with and the confidence that he’s showing, it’ll be tough.
“We can’t give him easy baskets. We have to make him beat us over the top, contest and not let him get to the rim.”
That win snapped a Nuggets’ six-game winning streak. Phoenix has won 13 of its last 15 home games against Denver.
The Suns may not be on an eight-game winning streak, but they’ve also been playing well recently. Phoenix has now won four of its last six games, including a 3-0 record over teams with winning records, such as the Spurs, Hawks and Rockets.
All of those teams would qualify for the playoffs if they started today. In fact, the Suns own wins over six of the eight Western Conference teams that would qualify for playoffs, if the season ended today.
The Suns are 5-5 since the All-Star break and 4-3 against the Western Conference in that stretch.
Don’t Call It a Comeback
Before sustaining a mid-foot sprain in his right foot on March 6, Marcin Gortat had started 138 consecutive games and had appeared in 182 consecutive games since being acquired by the Suns from Orlando. Gortat had not missed a single game as a member of the Suns and was the only Suns player to start every game this season before the injury.
He missed his first game as a Sun on Friday against the Kings in Sacramento, but showed up in the locker room before the Rockets games sporting his orange cast with purple stripes.
Currently, the Suns center is experiencing an extreme case of cabin fever due to this injury. In order to keep himself occupied, he’s taking extended naps and tweeting.
“I want to finish the season playing,” Gortat said. “The doctor is more optimistic than before. I think I’ll be playing in three weeks.”
As for whether Coach Hunter buys into Gortat’s optimism, the first year coach said smiling, “That’s just Gortat being Gortat.”
Hunter said that it will be up to the doctor, as well as to how Gortat feels, on whether he’ll come back previously than expected.
Despite returning from Boston, where he was taking care of his daughter in the hospital, Suns center Jermaine O’Neal will sit out against the Nuggets. His daughter, who had open-heart surgery, is in great condition and is at home recovering.
“As a parent, you try to be as mentally strong as you can for your kids,” the 6-11 center said. “But my daughter taught me a lot about strength over these past six days.”
Asjia, who is a standout volleyball player at 13 years old, will be cleared to do cardio in a few weeks. As for her father, he expects to play against Houston on Wednesday.
O’Neal expects to play against Houston on Wednesday.