The Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets aren’t supposed to be here. The Suns had a great regular season, but once they drew the defending champion Lakers in the first round, most pundits expected their time in the postseason to be short. The Nuggets looked every bit a championship contender when they acquired Aaron Gordon at the trade deadline. Then Jamal Murray tore his ACL and the entire trajectory of their franchise changed. Things looked even bleaker when Will Barton and P.J. Dozier went down. Surely, they wouldn’t be able to beat a fully healthy Portland Trail Blazers team without three of their top five guards.
Well, here we are. The surprising Suns can no longer be deemed particularly surprising after posting the second-best record in the NBA and taking down the defending champs. The Nuggets overcame multiple 3-1 deficits last season. They’re more than resilient enough to keep winning without Murray. We may not have expected a Nuggets-Suns matchup at this stage, but we’ve got one now, and here’s how you can tune into Game 1 on Monday night.
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(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (3) Denver NuggetsDate: Monday, June 7 | Time: 10 p.m. ETLocation: Phoenix Suns Arena — Phoenix, ArizonaTV: TNT | Live stream: TNTOdds: DEN: +175 | PHO -200 | O/U: 219.5 (William Hill Sportsbook)
Featured Game | Phoenix Suns vs. Denver Nuggets
Suns: How healthy is Chris Paul? He looked great in Game 4 against the Lakers. Then he scored only 17 combined points on 33.3 percent shooting in Games 5 and 6. Devin Booker was so transcendent against the Lakers that Phoenix could live without Paul at his peak, but the Nuggets are going to be a far more difficult test. The Suns managed to hold the Lakers below 110 points in all six of their first round games and below 100 three times. Denver averaged over 120 against Portland.
The Suns aren’t going to win shootouts against the Nuggets without their point guard at something close to full strength. Phoenix hasn’t played since Thursday, so he’s had some extra time to recover, and Cameron Payne has been so good in the postseason that Phoenix can at least afford not to overtax Paul within games, but the Nuggets aren’t going to be as forgiving as the Lakers without Anthony Davis were. Phoenix needs to score to win this series, and that means a healthy Paul.
Nuggets: Poor, poor Nuggets. Just as they lose all of their guards, they run into the team with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. After they get past those two, they run into… Devin Booker and Chris Paul. No rest for the weary, I suppose. Denver might have beaten Portland, but it’s not as though they shut down Lillard. He averaged over 34 points per game in the first round.
Barton and Dozier could return at some point in this series. That would help. But make no mistake, Booker and Paul are going to define this series, and Denver is going to have to get creative in how they defend them. The Lakers had some success doubling Booker off of screens even inside of the arc. The bigger Gordon might get a look on him as Denver’s guards shouldn’t have to worry about Mikal Bridges or Jae Crowder taking advantage of size advantages. Mike Malone is going to throw the kitchen sink at Booker, and that is going to be the chess match the determines who wins this thing.
If Paul looks like himself in Game 1? Phoenix should be strong favorites in this series. Otherwise? It’s a toss-up, and in a toss-up, I’m always going to take the points. Denver is good enough to beat Phoenix outright, so with such a big spread, they’re the logical pick here. Nuggets +5