Streaking Nuggets likely to avoid Ayton again

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The Phoenix Suns didn’t have DeAndre Ayton the first two times they played the Denver Nuggets this season. The teams meet for a third time Monday, this time in Arizona, and Denver will reportedly avoid the big man again — this time for injury.

Ayton missed the Suns’ first two games against the Nuggets while serving a 25-game suspension and the Nuggets won both, which were played in Denver. Ayton returned against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, but missed the next two games with an ankle injury.

Multiple reports on Sunday said Ayton will sit on Monday against the Nuggets, as well. It’s not the best news for a team that has lost six in a row — but isn’t getting any excuses from coach Monty Williams.

“You can boo-hoo and whine about it, but it does no good,” Williams told reporters Saturday. “You look around the league, Minnesota is missing players, New Orleans is missing players all year. … It’s happening to everyone. I don’t know if anyone’s dealt with what we’ve dealt with, but I like my team, I like the fight and the way they show up every day.”

Guard Ricky Rubio missed Saturday’s game due to illness and is reportedly questionable for Monday. Phoenix didn’t practice Sunday after playing back-to-backs on Friday and Saturday.

Even with a fully healthy team, the Suns would have a challenge with Denver. The Nuggets rebounded from a 1-3 road trip to sweep a five-game homestand, and then blew out the Lakers 128-104 in Los Angeles on Sunday night for their sixth straight win. The Lakers’ LeBron James sat out with an injury.

Denver’s quick bounce-back has been led by two of its stars, center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray. Jokic put up double-doubles in eight straight games and two triple-doubles before Sunday, the most recent of which came in a win over Minnesota on Friday night.

Murray has come on since leaving Denver’s loss at Philadelphia on Dec. 10. In the two games leading up to the win at L.A. he scored 61 points and was instrumental in keeping the Nuggets’ recent winning streak alive.

He led a rally from 19 down to Orlando on Wednesday, and then helped stave off a Minnesota rally Friday night with a strong third quarter.

But in a sign of how good the Nuggets can be, Murray had only had six points and Jokic didn’t get a double-double, yet the team still handled the Lakers in L.A. Murray did have five assists against the Lakers.

“Jamal’s being really aggressive, looking for his shot and shooting into a big basket. What I like is it’s not just the shooting and scoring, it’s the rebounding and playmaking,” Denver coach Michael Malone told reporters Friday night. “He’s a smart player, he’s an offensive scorer, and he can do it at a high level. The scary thing is he can make those shots.”

But the Nuggets’ two wins over the Suns weren’t easy. Denver won by a point in overtime in its home opener on Oct. 15, then by 12 a month later in a game the Suns actually led in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets have been able to contain guard Devin Booker, holding him to 18 points in October and just 12 in the last game.

Booker has played well in December, averaging 24.6 points in eight games. He missed three games with a forearm contusion before returning Friday against the Thunder.

–Field Level Media

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