On Saturday, we begin the journey into the conference semifinals as Game 1 between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns will commence. It promises to be an intense and competitive contest that could set up one of the best series this round.
Nikola Jokic has led the Denver Nuggets to an extraordinary season. Despite questions regarding depth and defense, they still secured the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
The Suns, hampered by injuries throughout their regular season, had an underwhelming regular season by their standards. Their midseason trade for Kevin Durant quickly brought everyone back together; however, not enough court time has passed yet to build relationships among each player on the roster, but the Suns are getting better every game.
The Nuggets are 2.5-point home favorites against the Suns for Game 1; the Suns are favored to win the series.
The Nuggets have been dominant at home this season. After including playoff results, they boast a 37-7 straight-up mark and 27-16-1 against-the-spread record at home this year, winning both of their home games to split season matchup 2-2 despite three of four contests featuring key players missing from action.
Both teams were healthy enough to compete on Christmas Day, with Denver winning 128-125 in overtime. Jokic shone against Deandre Ayton in that matchup scoring 41 points while also collecting 15 rebounds and dishing 15 assists; Jokic’s presence poses a huge matchup problem for Ayton and the Suns; it will be intriguing to watch how this matchup plays out as I expect Jokic may exploit this matchup and force double teams from them.
The Nuggets defense remains uncertain. Booker and Durant should prove difficult to contain for Denver; consequently, their dynamic offense must help put pressure on an ineffective Suns defense.
Two years ago, the Suns defeated Denver Nuggets in an embarrassing Western Conference semifinal series sweep. Now with an improved roster, I expect the Nuggets to come out strong early and exact their revenge for that humiliating exit.
Even though the Suns won their series 4-1 against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, several concerning observations remain about them. First and foremost is how their stars have played so much: Devin Booker and Kevin Durant exceeded 40 minutes each game in this first round, and 37-year-old Chris Paul wasn’t far behind, something which may not be sustainable with three injury-prone players like this.
Phoenix lacks depth on its roster, and Monty Williams doesn’t trust his bench players much; Josh Okogie was the only non-starter receiving consistent minutes in Game 5. Cameron Payne returned later in the series but only played three minutes in Game 5, so having him around should help strengthen their backcourt.
Although despite having three elite stars, the Suns weren’t in sync on offense until later in the series. Granted, Durant only played 13 games since joining them so they are still finding their rhythm as a unit. Booker had an outstanding individual performance, averaging 37.2 points per game. Unfortunately, their defense against the Clippers without Paul George or Kawhi Leonard won’t cut it against an even more potent Nuggets offense.
I predict Denver’s home-court advantage will prove too much for the Suns in Game 1. While they are still attempting to find their footing and form a cohesive unit, their first-round matchup against Minnesota proved relatively straightforward; now, against Denver, it may prove much more challenging. With that being said, I think Suns defense may be in for an unpleasant surprise in Game 1 against them and make this line in favor of Denver with odds up to +4.
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