No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets
Line: Phoenix -4
Where: Phoenix Suns Arena
When: Monday, 6/7 at 10:00 p.m. ET
Phoenix might have been the two-seed in the Western Conference, but it was not expected to get past seventh-seeded Los Angeles in the opening round.
The Suns took advantage of a Lakers team that was without Anthony Davis for most of Game 6 and were able to close out the series. They will now try to advance to the Western Conference Finals when their series against No. 3 Denver tips off on Monday night.
Oddsmakers opened Phoenix as a 5.5-point favorite for the series-opener, but the early betting action has pushed the line down to -4 as of Sunday morning. By Monday morning, the line was back up to -4.5.
The total opened at 219.5 points, but it was up to 220.5 as of Monday morning. Phoenix is a -190 favorite to win the series, according to BetOnline.
As with several other series in the 2021 playoffs, injuries are a key talking point heading into Game 1. It’s nothing new, as the injury occurred in April, but Denver is without star guard Jamal Murray due to a torn ACL.
The Nuggets have also been without guard Will Barton (hamstring) and PJ Dozier (adductor). Barton remains ‘out’ for Monday’s game, while Dozier is out indefinitely.
Damian Lillard and Portland gave Denver all it could handle, but Nikola Jokic kept on coming. The presumptive MVP averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game. He shot 56.6% from the floor and always seemed to come up with a big bucket to answer Lillard.
Jokic paces a Denver offense that ranked eighth in scoring (115.1 PPG) during the regular season. While Portland was outside the top 20 in team defense, the Suns finished seventh in points allowed (109.5).
Phoenix big man Deandre Ayton will be a better defender than anyone Jokic saw in the first round. It goes both ways, though, as this will be a tough test for Ayton, whose career is just beginning. He averaged 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds during the first round.
Shooting guard Devin Booker is going to be Denver’s biggest worry defensively. Booker scored 29.7 points per game against Los Angeles, shooting 42.9% from beyond the arc.
Phoenix is not dealing with the same severity of injury issues as Denver, but veteran point guard Chris Paul battled a shoulder injury throughout the first round. He initially hurt it in Game 1 and then re-aggravated it in Game 5. Paul only averaged 9.2 points and 7.7 assists in limited minutes.
Denver took two of the three regular-season meetings between these teams, winning twice at Phoenix in overtime. The Nuggets were 2.5-point road favorites in a 120-112 win in January, but Murray was on the court for all three regular-season encounters.
They are 9-1 in their last 10 trips to Phoenix and they covered the spread in four of their last five games against Portland. The Suns went 4-2 ATS in their six games against the Lakers and are 16-2 in their last 18 home games.
The total has gone ‘over’ in five of the last six head-to-head meetings between these teams. Phoenix has gone ‘over’ in 11 of its last 16 games overall, while Denver has cashed the ‘over’ in six of its last seven.
The pick: Phoenix -4.5
The early betting action has been on the road ‘dog, but I like Phoenix to make a statement at home to open this series. This is going to be a much tougher matchup for Denver, as Ayton can defend Jokic better than anyone Portland had to offer. I think all of Denver’s recent success against Phoenix can be thrown out of the window. The Suns are a young team that has improved, while Denver no longer has Murray in the lineup. Phoenix should be more rested after coasting to a win at Los Angeles in Game 6. Denver is coming off back-to-back late wins and has to go on the road to open this series.