As far as star power goes, few series can rival this series between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns in the second round of this year’s playoffs.
Nikola Jokic, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Jamal Murray are household names that excite any basketball fan while adding one of the most significant point guards ever – Suns guard Chris Paul – makes for an almost irresistibly alluring pairing.
And even better still is that both teams enter Game 1 rested and healthy – not a single player from either team is listed on the injury report for Game 1. Unfortunately, this cannot be said of every team participating in this year’s NBA Playoffs – ask Los Angeles Clippers.
At first glance, when the two teams begin their respective starting lineups, the Suns stand out with Booker and Durant being two of the greatest pure scorers in today’s game – Booker can go off at any point; when both are playing well together, it makes Suns nearly unbeatable.
Booker and Durant were just one of two duos to score at least 25 points in every game of a best-of-seven series opener.
Booker has been exceptional this post-season, averaging 37.2 points per game on an impressive clip that would have put him ahead of Michael Jordan (in Jimmy ‘Playoff’ Butler). However, an overwhelming feeling remains that Durant has yet to play his best basketball for the Suns.
Add Paul, who may no longer score like his former self but still boasts elite basketball IQ and is fourth in assists per game (8.2) during this post-season, and the Suns become frightening offensively. They finished Round One of playoff action with an excellent 122.5 offensive rating – three total points ahead of second-place Heat.
Unfortunately for Denver, they’re not known for their defense; finishing 15th overall in terms of overall defensive rating was something they struggled with this season. Their offense is what carried them, however; in an arms race with Phoenix Suns they would likely come out victorious.
Therefore, they need to bolster their defenses.
Aaron Gordon will likely see most of his time spent against Kevin Durant, while Booker will see Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown more frequently. To stop these two stars from Denver’s offense effectively, their opponents must work as one cohesive unit.
Unfortuately, that can be much simpler said than done.
Phoenix went all in when they made a bold move for Durant in early February after coming up short in the NBA Finals two seasons prior.
Suns owners understandably had to offer up a lot for Durant, one of the greatest scorers ever seen in league history. By adding him, they gained one of the greatest scorers but lost an abundance of picks and scoring depth as part of the deal.
Even an undermanned Clippers squad managed to expose Phoenix Suns bench units. After Round 1, their bench ranks ninth with a net rating of -1.7; Denver had the second-best net rating with their reserves at 5.6.
Monty Williams recently decided to increase Durant and Booker’s minutes played per game in the playoffs; these two are currently leading with 43.8 minutes on average!
This strategy may have worked against an injured Clippers squad that could be dispatched in five games, but against Denver, it will likely prove more of a test, with many experts expecting this series to last the distance.
Will Suns starters have enough leg power if the series goes to Game 7? No one questions their talent; however, playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint, and all those minutes could take their toll in the end.
Depth and home-court advantage give the Nuggets the edge in this game, if they can contain Durant and Booker, they win again and cover!
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