For the first time in 32 years, the Phoenix Suns meet the Denver Nuggets in the playoffs. The duels in the regular season were all close, but now the omens have changed. After LeBron James with Nikola Jokic, will the Suns also be the likely MVP from the postseason?
Here is an overview of all series.
Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets: The starting point
If it goes purely according to the results of the regular season, a close and high-class series awaits us. All three games were only decided in the final phase, twice it needed an extension, Denver won two of the three games. The parameters have changed, however, and little can be read from these three games, which all took place in January.
Jamal Murray wasn’t absent with a cruciate ligament rupture at the time, Aaron Gordon was still bobbing around in Orlando and Austin Rivers was on duty as a guard for the New York Knicks. Now the cards have been reshuffled, the Suns are favorites in this series. It is only logical, after all, Devin Booker and Co. knocked out the reigning champion with the Los Angeles Lakers and gave LeBron James an unexpectedly long offseason.
Phoenix isn’t just a 2-seed in the west, they play like one too. Deandre Ayton earned his spurs against Anthony Davis, role players like Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson proved that they can also perform on the big playoff stage.
And booker? Last but not least, he underlined with 47 points in a closeout game that he is one of the best guards and scorers in the league. There are only question marks behind Chris Paul, who dragged himself through the series with shoulder problems. The three-day break should do the 36-year-old good, he didn’t appear on the Injury Report before Game 1.
Suns vs. Nuggets: the series at a glance
|1||8. June||4 o’clock||Suns||Nuggets|
|2||10. June||3.30 a.m.||Suns||Nuggets|
|3||12. June||4 o’clock||Nuggets||Suns|
|4||14. June||2 O ‘clock||Nuggets||Suns|
With Paul, Phoenix can draw on unlimited resources, the Nuggets cannot. With Murray (cruciate ligament rupture), PJ Dozier (adductors) and Will Barton (thigh), Denver was missing three guards in the series against Portland, and Barton is hoping that he will be back in action in the coming days. Dozier could also return on a longer series.
The guard rotation remains a construction site. Facundo Campazzo made the best of the situation as the new playmaker, while Rivers, who joined the team at the end of the season on a ten-day contract, scored several important three-pointers in crunchtime. The “next-man-up” mentality is not just an empty phrase in Mile High City.
Of course, it helps to play alongside Nikola Jokic. The Serb makes every player around him better, be it through his passports or the enormous gravity that he possesses through his many skills. Whenever the nuggets needed him against Portland, Jokic was there and was in no way inferior to the famous Damian Lillard on the other side. Now the next Herculean task is waiting.
Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets: Facts and Figures
|Bilanz Regular Season||51-21||47-25|
|Offensive rating (place)||116,3 (7)||116,3 (6)|
|Defensive rating (place)||110,4 (6)||111,5 (11)|
|Net-Rating (Platz)||+5,9 (3)||+4,8 (6)|
NBA Playoffs 2021: How the Suns win the series
The Blazers’ approach to making Jokic a scorer wasn’t bad, they just lacked the staff to do it. Ayton is a better defender in the post than Jusuf Nurkic, who felt he had the full series of foul problems. That will be the key for Phoenix too.
Ayton must not foul too much under any circumstances, as Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric will certainly not see the sun against the MVP candidate. Ayton will probably play one-on-one against Jokic most of the time, the Nuggets star punishes double teams too well, as the past postseason showed impressively.
Occasionally, however, the Suns should give it a try. Jokic can be brought out of rhythm with various strategies. Phoenix has defenders with long arms that can rotate quickly. If the Lakers series has proven one thing, it is that Phoenix is incredibly stable on defense, with every cog in the other.
On the offensive, however, the situation is quite clear, Booker will have to create a lot again. Denver is known for its high pick and roll defense, so decisions need to be made quickly. That could hit Paul in particular, who is something of the wildcard of this series with his shoulder problems.
The Phoenix Suns roster
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Chris Paul||Devin Booker||Mikal Bridges||Jae Crowder||Deandre Ayton|
|Cameron Payne||E’Twaun Moore||Torrey Craig||Cameron Johnson||Dario Saric|
|Jevon Carter||Langston Galloway||Abdel Nader||Jalen Smith||Frank Kaminsky|
|Ty-Shon Alexander||Tariq Owens|
NBA Playoffs 2021: How the Nuggets win the series
After Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, two more strong guards are waiting for the nuggets. As against Lillard, Denver will probably not have a useful answer against Booker, especially from the middle distance. One strategy is to live with exactly these attempts and to guard the triple line and allow little in the zone.
The Suns are not a team that puts a lot of pressure on the ring, which suits Denver. As mentioned above, the same applies to the fact that Phoenix only has one real center. If the Suns do double Jokic, a lot will depend on the role-players.
Can Rivers, Campazzo, Gordon or later Barton hit throws consistently? This question now arises for the third postseason in a row, against the Blazers the question could be answered in the affirmative. Nobody should assume, however, that Rivers will continue to hit over 45 percent of downtown.
Michael Porter Jr. is different. The Blazers did not have a suitable matchup for the youngster, now he has to deal with Crowder and Bridges, who should at least make him work harder. In order for Denver to score enough, MPJ will have to keep contributing an efficient 20 points per game.
The Denver Nuggets roster
|Point Guard||Shooting Guard||Small Forward||Power Forward||Center|
|Facundo Campazzo||Austin Rivers||Michael Porter Jr.||Aaron Gordon||Nikola Jokic|
|Monte Morris||Shaquille Harrison||Vlatko Cancar||Paul Millsap||JaMychal Green|
|(Jamal Murray)||Markus Howard||(Will Barton)||Zeke Nnaji||JaVale McGee|
Suns vs. Nuggets: Who Will Win the Series?
On paper there are a lot of things that speak in favor of Phoenix, which should score well if they run normally. In contrast to Portland, however, they are not a real three-man team, which could suit the Nuggets. In a “make-or-miss” league, the form of the day will often decide.
Can Booker and Paul score consistently from the middle distance? That litter will always be there. Can the nuggets hit their threesomes? That is the other big unknown. It is known, however, that Jokic can and will dominate near the basket. He’s the best player of the streak and that could make the difference in the end. Forecast: Nuggets in 7.