And then there were four left in the Wild Wild West. The Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets will now face off after taking down their first-round opponents in six games. This will be the first time that these two teams have met in the playoffs in 32 years. Let’s look at the matchup and see what each team needs to do to win this series.
NBA Playoffs Preview: Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets
How the Phoenix Suns and the Denver Nuggets Got Here
The Suns are here after a grueling series win against the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers. Devin Booker was an absolute stud in that series averaging 29.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists in those six games. Deandre Ayton also had a great series as he averaged 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds per game on 79.6% shooting. Chris Paul dealt with a shoulder injury but he managed to play through it. The Suns have had a few days off after taking down the Lakers, so Paul will be ready for the start of the second-round series.
The Nuggets had their hands full against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round but they prevailed. Nikola Jokic had an MVP-level performance against Portland averaging 33 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists. He’s telling the whole world that he’s the MVP this year. Despite Jokic’s performance, he got help from his supporting cast in their first-round series. Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris gave the Nuggets a strong offensive punch against Portland and helped Denver win close games.
Keys To Victory For the Suns
For the Suns to win this series, they will have to play excellent defense against the Nuggets. Phoenix has one of the best defenses this year and they locked down an offensively-challenged Lakers team. The Nuggets, however, are fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, so this will be a more difficult task for the Suns.
Phoenix will have their hands full trying to contain Jokic. Rather than focusing on taking away Jokic’s scoring, the Suns should prioritize taking away his playmaking. Denver is at their best offensively when Jokic is both playmaking and scoring. It’s impossible to take everything away from Jokic but the last thing the Suns want is the Nuggets supporting cast getting involved offensively. In the Nuggets losses in these playoffs, Jokic is only averaging one assist in those games. Ayton will be the primary defender on Jokic, so he’ll have to show some discipline on that end on the floor and avoid getting into foul trouble.
Offensively, the Suns will want to find ways to get Ayton more involved. His efficiency was off the charts against the Lakers. Despite his efficiency, there are times when he doesn’t shoot enough. It’s also a great way to get Jokic to expend more energy on defense. Every NBA team is at their best offensively when the ball is moving. When the ball moves for the Suns, the Nuggets will have a tough time guarding them since they shoot the three well. For that to happen, the Suns will need Paul to be healthy. He’s their best playmaker.
Keys To Victory For the Nuggets
For the Nuggets to win this series, they need Jokic to play at an MVP level since he’s the engine of the Denver offense. While he’s more than capable of getting his shot and putting the ball in the basket, the Nuggets are at their best when he creates for others.
Their second offensive option in Porter Jr. must also have a great series if Denver hopes to go further in the playoffs. He has filled in nicely after Jamal Murray went down with an ACL injury. He will be matched up primarily by an elite wing defender in Mikal Bridges. It’s also likely that he’ll see Jae Crowder guard him too at times.
Defensively, the Nuggets will have to slow down Booker or make life harder for him. He is the head of the snake offensively for the Suns. The Nuggets have many bodies to throw at him defensively, so he’ll likely see a bunch of different defenders this series. Guys like Austin Rivers, Facundo Campazzo, and Aaron Gordon will have their turns to guard him. Gordon is probably the best option of the bunch but defending Booker one-on-one is no easy task.
Some potentially good news for the Nuggets is that they could get Will Barton and PJ Dozier back in this series after they sat out of the first round due to injuries. They are also players that you could throw at Booker on defense. But with a healthier Paul, this task of slowing Booker will be even more difficult.
For the Suns, bench scoring has come at a premium due to their shortened rotation in these playoffs. The shortened rotation also means heavy minutes for their starters. In these playoffs, Cameron Payne has been their best offensive player off the bench. The Suns also play guys like Cameron Johnson, Torrey Craig, and Frank Kaminsky off the bench but the offensive production isn’t great between those three players. The lack of bench scoring could play a factor for the Suns in this series.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, have a super substitute player in Morris. He has had some high-scoring games off the bench for Denver in these playoffs. They also bring in veterans in Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green who both can knock down some shots. But with Barton and Dozier potentially coming back, the Nuggets bench just got deeper. Bench scoring is where the Nuggets have an advantage over the Suns.
Final Prediction: Phoenix Suns in Seven
This will likely be one of those long and grueling playoff series between these two teams. Both teams are right on par with each other offensively so it will come down to which team can get stops defensively. The Suns are better on that end of the floor and their defense will the factor that propels them to the Western Conference Finals. However, don’t be surprised if the Nuggets pull off a series win here.
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