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Nuggets vs. Suns Odds, Game 1 Preview, Prediction: Phoenix Favored to Open Conference Semifinals (June 7)

Nuggets vs. Suns Odds, Game 1 Preview, Prediction: Phoenix Favored to Open Conference Semifinals (June 7) article feature image

Christian Petersen/Getty Images. Pictured: Deandre Ayton and Nikola Jokic.

Nuggets vs. Suns Game 1 Odds

Nuggets Odds +5
Suns Odds -5
Moneyline +175 / -225
Over/Under 219.5
Time Monday, 10 p.m. ET
Odds as of Sunday and via DraftKings

Considering their difficult first-round matchups, one against Damian Lillard and the other LeBron James, many didn’t expect either the Denver Nuggets or Phoenix Suns to reach the second round in the Western Conference. Both teams advanced in six games, though, setting up an intriguing matchup.

This should be an exciting series, with both teams feeling good about their chances in what is now a wide open West.

Let’s break down Game 1.

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No Guards? No Problem for Denver

The Nuggets enter this series down a few players in the backcourt. For this game, they will be without Will Barton, who continues to deal with a strained hamstring. The Nuggets will continue to lean on Monte Morris and Austin Rivers until Barton is able to return.

The Nuggets have thrived since their midseason acquisition of Aaron Gordon by running their offense through Nikola Jokic. The Blazers’ defense left much to be desired, but the Nuggets scored a whopping 125 points per 100 possessions against Portland. Denver faces a much tougher test in the form of a stout Suns defense.

The Nuggets actually fared well against the Suns this year, taking two of three games from them, although the two teams haven’t met since January. In those games, the Nuggets scored 113.2 points per 100 possessions while only surrendering 111.7, per Cleaning the Glass.

The one issue? All of these games were before Murray’s injury and the acquisition of Gordon.

Since Murray went down and Gordon was brought over, we’ve seen the Nuggets adapt. When the trio of Gordon, Jokic and Michael Porter, Jr. share the floor, Denver has been an impressive +9.1 points per 100 possessions while scoring 121.2 points with an eFG% of 57.8%, all marks in the 93rd percentile (or better) of all NBA lineups, per Cleaning the Glass.

The Nuggets will need big minutes from these three in order to contend in this series.

Suns’ Offense Plays Into Denver’s Defensive Strengths

The Suns finished off an impressive series against the Lakers during which they truly demonstrated that they were the better (and healthier) team. This really is not a surprise, considering Phoenix posted the second best record in the league, and ranked in the top 10 in both offense and defense.

The Suns owned the fourth best eFG% during the regular season. They relied on attempts from the corner and midrange, while getting to the rim was not seen as a priority (last in frequency at the rim).

The key, though, is they executed. The Suns had the best midrange shooting percentage in the league (49.1%) and the second best from the corner (43.7%), per Cleaning the Glass. While Denver defends the midrange shot well, they allow opponents to hit the corner 3-pointer 41.4% of the time. This is an angle the Suns should look to capitalize on, and they have the personnel to do so in either Jae Crowder or Mikal Bridges, both of whom can get hot.

The Suns can control the pace of any game with Chris Paul at the helm, and they’ve played at one of the slowest Paces in the league (98.00). However, since April 1, the Nuggets have the eighth-best half-court defense and surrendered just 111.3 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.

While this may be a strong suit for the Suns (score 117.7 points per 100), they may play themselves directly into Denver’s hands.

Nuggets-Suns Pick

Considering the spread, I think there’s value on Denver.

I expect to see Denver attack Deandre Ayton to get him into foul trouble, because there’s no answer for Jokic after the former No. 1 overall pick on the Suns roster. Frank Kaminsky? No shot. This strategy worked well for the Nuggets against the Blazers by neutralizing Jusuf Nurkic with fouls, and I expect to see this employed against Phoenix as well. Ayton only averages 2.8 personal fouls this season, but against the Nuggets he’s totaled three, three and six fouls this season.

There’s some concern that the Suns could get hot from 3-point range, especially the corner. But since Denver acquired Gordon, it has allowed the fifth-lowest shooting percentage from midrange (37.4%), a low-value shot that the Suns rely on heavily.

This Nuggets team seems to keep exceeding expectations, but shouldn’t we expect greatness from a team with the presumptive MVP in Jokic, a big man who can score with ease while also facilitating the offense to benefit his teammates?

I’m expecting a big game from Jokic, and I’ll back Denver as underdogs on the road in Game 1.

Pick: Denver +5

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