Nuggets vs. Suns Odds & Picks: 3 Ways to Back Phoenix in Season Opener (October 20)
Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Chris Paul #3 of the Phoenix Suns.
- The Suns are favored in a playoff rematch to open their season against the Nuggets.
- Phoenix made a run to the Finals last season, while Denver big man Nikola Jokic was the NBA MVP.
- Matt Moore breaks down the big-time matchup and delivers his betting picks below.
Nuggets vs. Suns Odds
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These two teams met in the Western Conference semifinals and the Suns steamrolled the Nuggets in four games on their way to the NBA Finals.
Are the Suns poised to make quick work of the Nuggets again, or will the reigning MVP exact some revenge on opening night?
Are the Nuggets as Bad as Their Preseason Performances?
The big headline is prominent: No Jamal Murray until at least February.
The Nuggets are absolutely wobbling entering the season. The good news is that the starters were reasonably dominant in their first three preseason games, but the bench was so poor they lost all three.
Wins and losses in the preseason don’t matter, but it was clear head coach Michael Malone wanted to get an excellent win to feel like the team had settled. Then they face planted in the final game the starters played against the Oklahoma City Thunder before the backups entered, and the deep bench got a win on a back-to-back to close out the exhibition season.
The following Saturday, Michael Malone tore into his team for being too quiet and disorganized in practice. Practice, and Malone’s mood, were better on Monday, but it’s clear Denver has a long way to go to reach its peak in terms of execution.
I’m expecting a rough start for this group despite having bet their over 47.5 as one of my best bets and holding a championship ticket on them. The NBA season is very long, and teams will go through different versions during it. The first one for the Nuggets may be a rough one.
One highlight is the emergence of rookie Bones Hyland, who has earned playing time and rotation minutes with both his scoring and playmaking. Hyland should give a boost to a bench unit that struggles with shot creation despite having several playmakers.
Will Barton, who missed time in the preseason before playing in the final two preseason games, said he felt good and was good to go at practice Monday.
The Suns Should be in Form on Opening Night
The defending Western Conference champions look to pick up where they left off last season. Phoenix elected not to extend Deandre Ayton, but there’s no signal that it will disrupt team chemistry or Ayton’s short-term intentions with the Suns.
Phoenix’s only injury on the report, but one that’s significant, is Dario Saric. The Suns’ small-ball center will miss the entire season after suffering an ACL injury deep in the Suns’ playoff run.
Without Saric, the Suns elected to go big off the bench by bringing in JaVale McGee. He is capable and experienced; he’ll do fine in whatever capacity he’s required next to fellow backup big man Frank Kaminsky. The Suns will miss the ability to go five-out with Saric for stretches, however.
There’s no reason to think the Suns are anything but ready to go right back at it to start the season.
Denver won the season series 2-1 last season, including an overtime win on a back-to-back, with both games in Phoenix. Then, of course, the Suns turned around and waxed the Murray-less Nuggets in the playoffs in a sweep. (I took the Nuggets in that series; yikes. Don’t let a team’s uncanny resilience in another series impact how you cap series vs. other teams, especially without their second-best player.)
Before that series, MVP Nikola Jokic said that he thought Ayton defended him as well as anyone in the NBA. Among all centers in the regular season, Jokic had the fourth-worst differential between expected eFG% and actual (-1.19) vs. Ayton compared to all centers defending his shots, and the worst actual eFG% vs. any center with a minimum of 30 shots defended.
The Nuggets also face a severe size issue off the bench.
The Suns will miss Jevon Carter, but their entire roster is full of long, athletic types, whereas the Nuggets rely on Monte Morris and Facu Campazzo, both undersized guards. The Suns have rim protection with Kaminsky and McGee off the bench, while Denver is forced to play smaller with Jeff Green and JaMychal Green (or the Dos Verde Lineup, as I have dubbed it).
Denver’s defensive scheme is to play at the level of the screen, attacking and forcing the ball out of the primary ball handler’s control to make others make a play. The Nuggets honestly didn’t try this tactic much in their second-round sweep, mainly because Jokic was flat exhausted after carrying the team for 72 games and the first-round win over the Trail Blazers without Murray.
Even with fresher legs now, though, the Suns are well-positioned to punish Denver for this tactic. Chris Paul is a master at reading and evading the trap to hit the short-roll option; they have quick trigger shooters to capitalize, a lob threat with Ayton, and a primary off-ball scorer in Devin Booker on top of it.
Based on last season’s figures and using an estimation of halfcourt and transition offensive team-wide figures, I have this game at Suns -5.3, so about a point of value. This number opened at -6, moved to -5.5 at one point, and now back to -6.
We’re tracking big money coming in early on the Suns (hence the line movement). I don’t love using last season’s numbers for a model here for several reasons, but chief among them is the absence of Murray (who is baked into last season’s numbers).
Home favorites with a moneyline shorter than -300 and longer than -200 (Suns currently -250) are 39-15 (72.2%, +1.4% ROI) in home openers since 2003. More importantly, those same teams are 32-22 ATS (59.3%, +15.2% ROI) via Bet Labs.
That probably seems overly narrow and arbitrary (despite Bet Labs grading that system as a B-plus.
Here’s how to think of it: Teams that are closer in moneyline are priced too sharp given that they are closer to coin flips, and teams that are longer are priced so long as to remove ROI.
However, that sweet spot of 200-to-300 moneyline, at least in the home opener (a typically advantageous spot), has generated beatable lines. If we shorten the sample to favorites of (-6) or more, the number goes to 20-13 (60.6%) with an ROI of 18%.
This line seems to want to entice action on Denver, and I’d want to see where it goes before tip. A movement to -7.5 is reasonable given the Suns’ reputation, playing at home, etc. I like the matchup for them and think -6.5 to -7 is a good line for the Suns. If it moves back towards Denver for any reason, definitely grab Phoenix. If it moves to 7.5, it’s a stay away.
As for the total (223.5), the total has seen movement and sharp action move from 224.5 to 223.5. It’s interesting since Denver and Phoenix were two of the most profitable over teams last season, and Denver’s two significant issues in the preseason were turnovers and transition defense. (Turnovers lead to more possessions, fast break opportunities, and transition points.)
If the Nuggets win, it’s because Jokic has a monster game and they get shooting support from Michael Porter Jr. and potentially Bones Hyland. If the Suns win, it’s because they hammered a porous Nuggets defense.
I think there’s a slight value in a contrarian over at 223.5, but I think the better value is over on the Suns’ team total of 114.5. The Suns are absolutely a good play for moneyline round robins and parlays.
Pick: Suns -6.5 (-110) | Suns ML -250 | Suns team total over 114.5 (-120)