West Conference Semifinals: (2) Phoenix Suns vs (3) Denver Nuggets – Series preview
(2) Phoenix Suns
Well despite being called an “underdog” as the 2nd seed in the Western Conference and having to hear that the Lakers are poised for a strong championship defensive run the Suns are here. Devin Booker who should be considered Phoenix’s best player is a huge reason why. Defensively, the Suns got a break in not having to see Anthony Davis for a game and a half. However, credit is due where it is deserved because the Suns defense seems to be peaking at the right time.
Chris Paul the motor of the Suns and Booker is the star ready to excel his team to the next level. On the defensive side for Denver, there is a little bit better size in Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon to defend Booker. I’d imagine that JaMychal Green and if Michael Malone needs Shaquille Harrison are deep into the bench for additional reinforcements. However, I’m riding with the hot hand here and trusting that Booker has learned a thing or two now that he’s won a playoff series. Still advantage Phoenix that Booker isn’t done.
Where the Suns might struggle is obviously defending Nikola Jokic. In Denver’s first-round series against Portland, Jokic changed his game slightly to be more of a scorer. In six games he averaged 33 points a game while only averaging 4.5 assists per game. His regular-season averages were 26.4 points per game and 8.3 assists per game. This might not even mean anything but the fact that if Phoenix decides to double team Jokic, he’s already kind of a good passer? DeAndre Ayton could make a huge case here should he be able to go down the line of the West’s best big men and defeat them.
(3) Denver Nuggets
Now if you really have been following along with my previews I think I hit the nail on the head here. First, the Nuggets needed much support from their backcourt of Monte Morris, Facundo Campazzo, and Austin Rivers. Now, I did say that Rivers would be an underrated pick-up in that Denver-Portland preview. Sure enough, hitting clutch shots and having veteran IQ on defending Damian Lillard.
Second, I also have mentioned that to me Jamal Murray is a great player I really like. BUT I think his game isn’t too hard to replace as a scoring guard. Monte Morris comes into this series and averages 15.3 points per game, 5.8 assists per game, and shooting the ball 44-percent from the field this Playoffs. Now that’s no way in hell close to Jamal Murray’s playoffs series last year against the Jazz in the first round. However, in Game 6 Morris’ 22 points, 9 assists, and 50-percent shooting from the field was a key part of closing out the series. I like to see signs of how teams and certain players react to close out games. If Morris is that motivated he’s going to need to take that up a notch with Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Cameron Payne, and Mikal Bridges on the other end. Another big challenge against another big star in the Western Conference.
Lastly, I think the Nuggets adjust so well to the loss of Murray and understand with a playmaker like Jokic they’ll have to work a little harder on offense. However, it’s a game of sharing the wealth for them. Against Portland, Michael Porter Jr. averaged 18.8 points per game, Aaron Gordon averaged 12.5 points per game, and Austin Rivers averaged 11.5 points per game playing more than Campazzo in the series. Denver’s success in this series relies heavily upon how their backcourt will combat Booker and Paul’s attempts to blow open the scoring punch from themselves or assisting others.
Top players to watch
Devin Booker – First Round vs Los Angeles Lakers
- 29.7 PPG
- 6.2 RPG
- 5.0 APG
Nikola Jokic – First Round vs Portland
- 33.0 PPG
- 10.5 RPG
- 4.5 APG
Where should the money go?
DENVER IN 6 for me. I may be slightly salty that the Suns put an end to maybe another historic LeBron James playoff run but I’m here for this series. This should be one of the most entertaining series in terms of passing and hopefully shooting. Both teams have solid three-point shooters and arguably top 3 of the 5 best playmakers actively in the NBA right now (Jokic & Paul).
The interesting part here is that the chess match of a series could boil down to a few scenarios. Both teams could play to their defensive strengths and really make this series a chess match. How well does Ayton adapt to playing more on the perimeter against Jokic? Unless you plan to throw Cameron Johnson or Dario Saric at him. The strategic playmaking skills of Nikola Jokic and Chris Paul combined with role players thriving is a series that could also end up in high-scoring affairs. I’d take anything over 218 or more for this series.
I have a hard time imagining that the Nuggets will drop one by 30 points like the Los Angeles Lakers did against Phoenix in the first round. For the most part, these games should be closer in terms of the spread. Phoenix seems to have no problem often covering any favorable spread of 6 or more points.
Schedule and Results
PHX leads series 1-0
10:00 PM ET
Nuggets - 105
PHX leads series 2-0
9:30 PM ET
Nuggets - 98 Suns - 123
10:00 PM ET
Suns - 113
8:00 PM ET
Suns - 125