Nuggets

Can Denver Water Down the Scorching-Hot Suns?

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The story just before last year’s postseason was the Phoenix Suns’ 8-0 bubble run in Orlando.

Despite their late push, Monty Williams’ side finished 10th in the Western Conference – narrowly missing out on making their first playoff appearance in a decade.

Throughout the course of the current season, the Suns have performed excellently and remained consistent. Aided by the addition of veteran Chris Paul, Phoenix returned to the playoffs this season after securing the 2nd seed in what seems to be an always-stacked West.

In their last playoff appearance, the Suns lost in the conference finals to the Los Angeles Lakers. Ironically, the two sides faced off in this season’s first round – with Phoenix clinching the series in six games.

Last season’s postseason, however, cannot be mentioned without referring to the Denver Nuggets.

Michael Malone’s side created history by making consecutive 3-1 comebacks – allowing Denver to reach the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2009.

Looking to go one step further this year, the Nuggets looked set-in-stone contenders earlier on in the season, especially through the late additions of Aaron Gordon and JaVale McGee at the trade deadline.

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In April, however, Denver received a massive blow as guard Jamal Murray suffered a season-ending ACL tear. Despite enduring a season saturated with injuries, the Nuggets have hopped past every hurdle.

In the first round of the playoffs, Denver powered past the Portland Trail Blazers in an impressive 4-2 victory. The resilience of the Nuggets against a determined Damian Lillard made a statement to the rest of the league, emphasizing their determination to compete through Murray’s absence.

With all eyes on Monday’s Game 1, here are a few factors that could help to dictate the fate of the series.

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THE THREAT OF DEVIN BOOKER

The Nuggets will be more than aware of the damage the Suns are capable of.

Having won 51 of the 72 games played within the season (.708%), the Suns finished the season a win short of the best record in the NBA. Phoenix’s campaign was their best since the 2006-07 season (.744%), with guard Devin Booker leading the team through his relentless scoring.

The 24-year-old averaged 25.6 points per game in the season, with the former Kentucky Wildcat being the focal point of the Suns’ versatile offense.

It wouldn’t be out of this world to suggest that a fully healthy Denver team would struggle to limit Booker’s scoring. When combining this with the Nuggets’ injury troubles – it could potentially point towards Phoenix having the upper hand in the series.

However, it would be naïve to think that Coach Malone’s side will roll over that easy. As mentioned, the Nuggets have just overcome a talented Blazers squad, who possess a similar weapon to Booker in Lillard.

The Portland star put up mammoth numbers against a fragile Denver backcourt, which includes respective 42- and 55-point games.

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Like Lillard, limiting Booker’s scoring can be just as hard. The Suns’ all-star guard has averaged 29.7 points in the first round– which also includes a 47-point game of his own.

CAN JOKIĆ FIND SUCCESS AGAINST AYTON?

When talking about dominant scorers, another name that finds its way into the discussion is Nikola Jokić.

The Serbian center averaged 33 points in Round 1. His efficiency matched the threat of Lillard, leading Denver into the second round of the playoffs.

Throughout the series, Jokić received plenty of joy against former teammate Jusuf Nurkić. The Bosnian averaged five fouls per game against the Nuggets superstar – fouling out on multiple occasions.

Essentially, Jokić is beyond a handful for opposing defenders. In addition to his scoring, the Nuggets’ big man also carries a threat through his creative and instinctive passing.

In three games against Denver this season, Suns’ center Deandre Ayton averaged a concerning four fouls. If the former Arizona big man is to pick up early fouls against the skilful Jokić, it could lead to the Serbian dictating the game and series.

The matchup between the two players looks set to be the one to watch within the series.

A SERIES OF FINE MARGINS

It is also worth highlighting that Denver will no longer have home-court advantage against Phoenix. This can only benefit the Suns, who have won 27 of their 36 home games this season.

In addition to the support of the returning fans, it is also believed that role players perform better at home. With both sides looking well-matched at first sight, this could be a factor that determines the winner.

Guards Cameron Payne and Monté Morris both excelled in the first round. These could be two players to keep an eye on throughout the series as well.

In short, the answer to the question is that the Nuggets cannot limit the scoring threat of Devin Booker. However, they also have the future MVP on their team who can cause just as much danger.

Denver certainly has the tools and pieces to compete with Phoenix, with both teams looking well-matched on paper. The highly anticipated series looks to be closely fought, whilst being stacked with drama and entertainment.

Follow us on Twitter @NuggetsLead for the latest Nuggets news and insight. 

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About Ryan Bellenie

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