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The Western Conference’s best team in the regular season, the Denver Nuggets, will open up the second round of the playoffs against the Phoenix Suns. Even though the Nuggets have home court and the top overall seed, the Suns on paper have the more marquee names on their roster. So the question is will the Nuggets and their two-time MVP have enough to knockout the newly reloaded Suns?
Keys to The Series:
The Suns are 12-1 with Kevin Durant in the lineup and they found out firsthand on March 31st, how much of an impact that he can make on a game. When Chris Paul misses seven of his nine field goal attempts and Deandre Ayton scores eight points, the Suns would be expected to lose. But Durant made sure that a Phoenix was walking out with a victory. Durant scored 30 points and only attempted 15 shots in the 100-93 win.
In their opening-round series win, Durant scored at least 25 or more points in each game while taking less than 20 shots in each. Former Durant teammate Bruce Brown, as well as Aaron Gordon will have to take turns guarding Durant and at least make him work extra hard to get points. If Durant shoots over 60% from the floor in the series, then Denver will get eliminated again before the conference final.
When you look at the stats in Phoenix’s gentleman’s sweep of the Los Angeles Clippers, Ayton averaged 16 points and 11.2 rebounds in the five games. He finished the series with four double-doubles in a row and had 21 points and 11 rebounds in the series clincher. But going against Nikola Jokic, Phoenix is going to need an even bigger series out of the young center.
Not only is he going to have to score and rebound on the offensive end, but he has to neutralize Jokic on the defensive end. The Joker averaged a triple-double in the two games he played against Phoenix this season. In their final three games of the Minnesota Timberwolves series, Jokic had two triple-doubles, and the one game he didn’t, he finished with 43 points and 11 rebounds. If Ayton gets early touches and gets Jokic on his heels defensively, he could really change the complexion of the series.
Denver plays so much better at home and playing in conditions that they are used to will be a complete advantage. Not only is the Nuggets record 37-7 at home (including the playoffs), their average victory is over 10 points per game. As a team, they shoot 51% from the floor and 39% from downtown at home, which is one of the best home splits in the entire NBA. Making sure to protect their home court advantage will be at a premium in this series.
In acquiring Kevin Durant and T.J. Warren at the trade deadline, Phoenix traded some key role players that were vital to their previous success. Unfortunately, Warren played only six minutes in the opening round series and really hasn’t done much since the trade. So if an injury happens to any of their major players, the Suns don’t have the depth to make up for it. None of the combinations of Torrey Craig, Josh Okogie, or Bismack Biyombo are going to provide consistent scoring. Also, the additions of Warren and Terrence Ross have provided much scoring, either. Suns head coach Monte Williams will have to ride his main four players for the duration of the entire series.
This series looks awfully familiar to another playoff series involving a two-time MVP and a team full of All-Stars. That same series had Kevin Durant on the team that just acquired another all-star at the trade deadline. Unlike that series, this one won’t come down to a foot. The Nuggets are playing their best basketball of the season and Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. won’t allow Jokic to have to win it by himself.
Expect three triple-doubles from the Joker, at least two games of 30 or more points from Murray and Porter Jr. knocking down at least 19 three pointers as the Nuggets end the Suns’ championship hopes.
Denver wins the series in Six Games.