Once again the Denver Nuggets have to prove it. I consider a prove it game to be a pivotal game against a good team where you need to prove that you are as good as you want people to think you are. Denver has not done too well in “prove it games” this season.
Prove it game number one – Game 13: The Nuggets were 7-1 after acquiring Chauncey Billups including the big win over Boston as they headed into L.A. to face the Lakers. They were absolutely demolished in a game that was nowhere near as close as the 104-90 final score.
Prove it game number two – Game 20: After recovering from the loss to the Lakers by winning five of six the Nuggets were poised to send a message to the visiting Spurs and were rolled 108-91.
Prove it game number three – Game 26: The Nuggets bounced back from the loss to the Spurs by winning four straight before losing a game at Houston. Denver returned home to play the Cavs and Cleveland won so easily they probably thought it was just a scrimmage.
Prove it game number four – Game 53: The Nuggets predictably bounced back from the 44 point drubbing at the hands of the Nets to wipe out the Heat. The next night they were in Orlando where they had not won in years. Denver pulled out a huge 82-73 win.
Prove it game number five – Game 63: The Nuggets finally beat the Lakers and then promptly dropped games at Indiana and at Detroit, but bounced back to beat the Trail Blazers in Denver. Denver then traveled to Utah and the Nuggets got off to a great start only to get shredded by the Jazz in the closing minutes of the second and then the third quarter.
The Nuggets now have three straight prove it games on the road starting tonight in Phoenix and we are running out of season to bounce back from a poor performance.
The one thing you need to know about Phoenix is the offense is back. It may not be as flashy as when Steve Nash was running a three point circus with Amare flying down the middle for monster dunk after manhood stealing monster dunk. John Hollinger recently pointed out that even with the plodding Shaq and an aging Nash since Alvin Gentry took over the Suns are on a league record pace for offensive efficiency posting a 117.7 (as of March 17).
The Nuggets have won five straight games, but their play has not been what you would call exemplary. I especially have not been pleased with their defense. They have been content to play a solid quarter of defense here and there and then coast to a victory. They cannot afford to do that against the Suns.
Leandro Barbosa is out, but over the past couple of games Jason Richardson has looked like he did in Golden State with point totals of 31, 25 and 35. They may not have Joe Johnson, Quentin Richardson, Jim Jackson or Casey Jacobson anymore, but they can still hurt you with the three thanks to Nash, Richardson and yes, Matt Barnes. The Nuggets have been struggling to defend the three and over the month of March the Suns have bumped up their three point attempts to 20.9 per game and are making 39.1% of them. They also have the surprisingly spry Shaq roaming the paint who is capable of either overpowering you or making a crafty pass to take advantage of any out of position defenders. The bottom line is if you miss on your rotations, fail to cover the pick and roll, fall asleep on the weak side or just flat out get out of position, the Suns will torch you and the Nuggets have struggled in all of those areas recently.
Keep in mind the Suns will have to stop the Nuggets as they can certainly put the ball in the hoop pretty well themselves. The Suns do not have any good defensive matchups for Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith and Chauncey will need to make Nash work on defense as well.
We have seen the Nuggets play lockdown defense this season and they are certainly capable of holding the Suns in check, but as I have said, this is a prove it game. I am going into tonight not expecting anything from Denver. They will have to show me they are ready to win.
Take this with you: The Nuggets have lost eight straight games at Phoenix. If you think that is bad, they have lost 17 of their last 21 in Phoenix too. And just to make sure you are not overconfident they have lost 37 of their last 44 contests in Phoenix. I do not care if Phoenix is currently ninth in the conference a win tonight will be a nice accomplishment.