PHOENIX — After taking down the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, the Phoenix Suns look to advance past the Denver Nuggets.
So, can the Suns keep themselves in the playoffs, or will they fall to the Nuggets? Here are predictions from the ABC15 sports team.
Sports Anchor Collin Harmon
The Suns slayed the dragon that was the defending champions and their arch-nemesis, the Los Angeles Lakers. Now comes the possible league MVP in Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. Three things jump out to me in this series, so let's break it down that way.
Nikola Jokic vs DeAndre Ayton
Jokic took his unbelievable season to the next level against the Portland Trail Blazers, averaging 33 points and 10.5 rebounds in the first round. But the Phoenix Suns are in a different stratosphere than Portland when it comes to defense. It's another tough test for DeAndre Ayton, and not only is his confidence sky-high right now, but he's had success defending Jokic in their prior meetings.
Jokic said himself that Ayton is the big man that has given him the most trouble this season, and the numbers show that. Shooting nearly 57% from the field this year, Ayton has held Jokic to 38% shooting in the three matchups. If Ayton can parlay his level of play from the first round against the Lakers with what he's successfully done again Jokic in the past, that's a big win for the Suns.
Nuggets backcourt depth
Chris Paul is on the mend with his shoulder injury, and Monty Williams said he didn't miss a single part of practice over the last few days. The Nuggets, meanwhile, are hopeful to get Will Barton and PJ Dozier back in this series, but they will miss at least game one. Combine that with Jamal Murray, who is done for the season with a torn ACL, that's two starters and one of the first guys off the bench that are unavailable in the Nuggets backcourt.
Austin Rivers was not on an NBA roster a couple of months ago, and now he's supposed to shut down Devin Booker? A rookie in Facundo Campazzo is supposed to outwit future Hall of Famer Chris Paul? What happens when the spark plug that is Cam Payne comes off the bench scoring in bunches? Guard play is the strength of the Suns, and the Nuggets don't have the depth or talent at the position to hang.
Michael Porter Jr.
He has taken over the role of the #2 option behind Jokic since the injury to Jamal Murray. He presents numerous challenges as a lanky 6'10" shooter who is extremely efficient. His level of play in this series will largely dictate how far this series goes. If MPJ is on, it's going to be quite a battle between two up-and-coming Western Conference powers. If the combination of Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder are able to throw off his shot, it's going to be a quick series.
With Jamal Murray, the Nuggets are a scary team. Without him, they are an overmatched group standing in the way of a Suns team that seemed to find another gear in games 5 & 6 against the Lakers. The Suns are elite on both ends of the floor, and as long as Chris Paul's shoulder doesn't become an issue again in this series, I think the Suns are moving onto the Western Conference Finals.
Series prediction: Suns in 5
Sports Director Craig Fouhy
It’s been a long, long time since the Phoenix Suns have advanced in the playoffs. 2010 to be exact. That’s 11 long years for long-suffering Suns fans.
The Suns 11-years was second only to the Sacramento Kings 15.
That being said, the 2-seed Suns now take on the 3-seed Denver Nuggets, in a 2nd-Round series which the Vegas odds-makers are favoring the Suns.
As of Sunday afternoon, the Suns were favored by 4 ½ to win game one on Monday night… and favored to win the series. In fact, Vegas has the Suns winning the series 4-games to 1.
Keep this in mind as the Suns move forward in the 2021 playoffs. At one point in the opening round, the Suns trailed the Lakers 2-games to 1. Phoenix then ran off three straight wins to take the series 4-2 and advance to the 2nd round.
The Keys to Round 2:
Will injuries have an impact?
For the Suns, it’s all about Chris Paul and his shoulder injury. He injured his right shoulder in game 1 against the Lakers and has had to fight through the injury ever since. If he’s healthy (healthier), the Suns will have a much easier path to the Conference Finals.
For the Nuggets, they’ve been beat up all season. Most notably, Jamal Murray tore his ACL in April and won't play until next season. Denver is also without Will Barton (hamstring strain) and PJ Dozier (adductor strain).
Trying to guard the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul with backups in the backcourt isn’t going to be easy.
Is DeAndre Ayton up to the task?
In this series, Ayton will go head to head against the presumptive MVP in the league this year, Nikola Jokic.
Jokic finished the opening round against Portland averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game, while shooting 56.6 percent from the field.
And finally, there’s Devin Booker. Book was fantastic against the Lakers in his first career playoff appearance and now that he’s gained confidence, I expect him to continue to carry the Suns.
Not to mention, the Suns just have more depth coming off the bench than the Nuggets.
Prediction: Suns in game one and in this series