Suns, trying to build momentum, go up against Nuggets

Field Level Media

March 05, 2024 at 2:51 am.

The Phoenix Suns felt they had found the missing piece for a title run when they traded for Bradley Beal in the offseason, but their version of a Big Three has constantly been hampered by injuries.

Despite playing the past two games, Beal has missed 29 this season, and now fellow star guard Devin Booker is dealing with an ankle strain sustained Saturday that will keep him out for at least a week.

It has been hard to establish chemistry between Beal, Booker and Kevin Durant when Phoenix can’t consistently get all three on the court together, a situation the Suns will face on Tuesday night when they visit the Denver Nuggets.

The Suns are coming off back-to-back losses, including a 118-110 setback against Oklahoma City on Sunday. Phoenix rallied from down 24 to take a fourth-quarter lead, only to have the Thunder recover.

The result spoiled a big night for former Denver center Jusuf Nurkic, who set a Suns franchise record with 31 rebounds. Now he goes against his friend and former teammate Nikola Jokic, whose Nuggets are on a six-game winning streak.

For Phoenix, which is trying to secure a top-six spot in the Western Conference to avoid the play-in tournament, the urgency is increasing.

“We got time, but we can’t keep saying we got time. … We only got (21) games left,” Beal said. “It’s a good amount of games to really get us going and get us going right before the playoffs. So, I think that will be really good for us, but we do got to get rolling. We can’t keep talking about it. … We got to hit this steamroller head-on.”

Denver went into the All-Star break on a three-game skid but flipped a switch when the regular season resumed. The Nuggets have earned impressive road wins against the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers during their winning streak, and they put a damper on LeBron James’ historic night on Saturday, when James surpassed 40,000 career points in Denver’s 124-114 victory.

“Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but I think we are getting the looks (in clutch time),” Jokic said. “We are taking the shots that we want to take.”

Denver beat the Lakers even with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missing the game for personal reasons. Caldwell-Pope participated in practice on Monday and will be available to play Tuesday night.

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray was questionable to play against Los Angeles after sustaining a right ankle injury against the Miami Heat on Thursday, but he posted 24 points and 11 assists on Saturday and made clutch plays down the stretch. He will be available Tuesday as well.

If the Suns want to avoid losing a third game in a row, they will have to stop more than Jokic and Murray. Michael Porter Jr. is coming off a big night in which he scored 25 points and hit all 10 of his field-goal attempts, including five from 3-point range.

He also became the answer to the trivia question of who was guarding James when the NBA’s all-time leading scorer hit the 40,000-point milestone.