Denver (0-0) at Phoenix (0-0)
When: Monday, June 7th, 2021
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena,
Time: 10:00 ET | TV: TNT
Opening Odds: Phoenix -5.5/219.5
Two upstart Western Conference teams will battle in the second round of the playoffs as they Phoenix Suns host the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western semis on Monday night. The Suns come into this series with a ton of confidence after dispatching the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Phoenix won the first game 99-90, but then dropped the next two, making L.A. a big betting favorite to win the series. Well, the Suns weren’t having any of it. Phoenix won the next three including a 30-point win in Game 5 that send LeBron James sulking back to the locker room before the game was even over, leaving his teammates to watch the rest of the massacre by themselves. Really classy, LeBron. The Suns should face a tougher opponent this time around, but the Nuggets are far from a championship team with two starters out since April. When Denver lost guard Jamal Murray to an ACL tear in his left knee on April 12, the betting odds on them took a big hit. Then, on April 23, Will Barton went down with a hamstring injury and has yet to make it back on the court. The Nuggets came together and finished the regular season strong before knocking out the Portland Trail Blazers in six games during the first round. Michael Porter Jr. stepped up in a big way for the Nuggets, averaging 18.8 points in the series, while scoring 25 or more on three occasions. Denver appeared headed toward a Game 7 with the Trail Blazers when they trailed by 14 points in the third quarter of Game 6, but the Nuggets outscored Portland 47-22 over the final 16 minutes, 53 seconds to record a 126-115 victory. All three meetings between these teams took place in January and the road team won all three. The Nuggets won twice on Phoenix’s floor and both were in overtime. The over is 5-1 in the last six meetings.
Others besides Porter have stepped up as well, including Monte Morris, who hit 10 of his last 21 three-point attempts during the final two games of the first round. Combine that strong play out of their role players with the potential MVP of the league in Nikola Jokic and Denver is getting the respect they deserve in the wide-open West. They also have more playoff experience than the young Suns. Jokic was his usual incredible self in the first round, going through the series against the Blazers with a team-leading average of 33.0 points per game on 52.8 percent shooting from the field. Jokic averaged 25.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the three games against Phoenix this season. The Nuggets are 4-2 against the spread in their last six road games.
Chris Paul and Devin Booker have been one of the best backcourts in the entire league this season and they kept that going through the first round even though Paul was hobbled. The right shoulder of Paul is something to keep an eye on. He injured it in Game 1 against the Lakers and re-aggravated it in Game 5. Paul averaged 9.2 points and 7.7 assists against the Lakers, but reached double digits just once when he scored 18 points in Game 4. Center Deandre Ayton was strong inside the paint and his matchup with Jokic will be key in this series. Booker averaged 29.7 points in the series including a 47-point outburst in Game 6. The Suns defense limited the Lakers to 97.5 points per game on 41.4 percent shooting from the field. The Suns are 6-4 against the spread in their last 10 home games.
The Suns were the better team coming into the first round series with the Lakers, and they proved it. Denver has been doing it without two of its starters for almost two months now and deserve a lot of credit. Phoenix has the defense to control Denver’s role players and it won’t matter what numbers Jokic puts up. The Suns are the all-around better team in this series as well. I’ll take them in Game 1.
Check out who Bobby Babowski has on his Free NBA Picks page for today.
Pick: Suns -4.5