NBA

NBA Game of the Week: Nuggets look to improve Christmas Day record against Suns

By Sports Desk December 24, 2022

It's that time of year, which will warm the hearts of most but possibly send a chill down the spines of Denver Nuggets fans.

Denver are 1-6 (.143) all-time on Christmas Day, the second-worst record among active franchises, and they come up against last season's Western Conference top seeds this year.

Coach Michael Malone will be confident of providing a rare moment of Christmas cheer to their fans against the Phoenix Suns, though, with his team in excellent form heading into Sunday.

The Nuggets lead the Western Conference, tied with the Memphis Grizzlies at 20-11, and have picked up victories in six of their last seven.

Friday's 120-107 win against the Portland Trail Blazers was a good example of what has been Denver's strength this season, with Nikola Jokic leading the way with 29 points but also being ably backed up by the other four starters each scoring 13 or more.

The Suns have the fifth-best record in Christmas Day games at 12-7 (.632) and have also won each of their last two meetings with Denver.

However, Monty Williams' men have not been able to follow up their impressive 64-18 regular season record from last year, now 19-14 to sit fourth in the West.

A 125-100 defeat to the Grizzlies on Friday was chastening enough without the six losses from the prior nine games; five of those seven defeats have been by double-figures.

They have missed the influence of Devin Booker in their last three games, absent with a groin strain since he put up 58 points against the New Orleans Pelicans, and it remains to be seen if the man averaging 28.0 points per game this season will be back on Sunday.

The future looks bright for the Suns, with Mat Ishbia recently agreeing to a record $4billion purchase of the franchise, but their immediate target is to get back on track, starting by trying to dampen Denver's Christmas spirit even further.

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Phoenix Suns – Chris Paul

Should he play, Booker will of course provide a significant boost for Phoenix, but if he is missing again, Williams will need someone to step up in his absence, which has not happened in their last two games.

The experienced Paul made a big contribution in the recent win over the Lakers, yet he has otherwise not been putting up his usual numbers this season. His plus/minus of 1.7 is well down on last year's 7.1, but if the 37-year-old can find his best form at Christmas, it could go a long way against a strong opponent.

Denver Nuggets – Nikola Jokic

The back-to-back league MVP keeps putting up numbers to compare with the greats of the game. In the recent win against the Charlotte Hornets, Jokic became the first man to finish a game with at least 40 points, 25 rebounds and 10 assists since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968.

The Serbian star is averaging 24.9 points per game this season, as well as 10.9 rebounds and a career-best 9.3 assists.

KEY BATTLE – Nuggets' efficiency could decide contest

Denver are very good at putting the basketball through the hoop, which is quite helpful.

No team have a better success rate from beyond the arc than the Nuggets (38.9 per cent) this season, although no team have had fewer than their 923 attempts. Only the Sacramento Kings (943) have allowed fewer three-point attempts than the Suns (996).

The Nuggets are also second in the league for field-goal percentage, with their 50.6 per cent only behind the Brooklyn Nets (50.8).

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Phoenix won their last encounter in March, 140-130 at Ball Arena, which was their 100th victory against Denver in the regular season.

The Nuggets have only 85 wins against the Suns, with the last coming in October 2021, but they have won 18 of the last 23 clashes between the teams.

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