Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns
Line: Denver -3.5
Where: Ball Arena, Denver, Colorado
When: Saturday, 4/29 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Denver is used to being overlooked this season, and nothing has changed heading into a highly anticipated second-round series against Phoenix.
The Nuggets finished with the best regular season record in the Western Conference, but Phoenix is viewed as the top contender from the conference. DraftKings has the Suns priced at +380 to win the NBA Finals, while the Nuggets are +850. Phoenix is a -130 favorite to win the series.
As for Game 1, oddsmakers opened Denver as a 2.5-point favorite, but the line has moved up a point to -3.5 in the last 24 hours. The total opened at 226.5 before the early betting action pushed that number down to 226. That move didn’t last, though, as the total is now at 227 points.
Denver has gone ‘under’ the total in 13 of its last 18 games, but Phoenix has gone ‘over’ in nine of its last 11 road games.
The Nuggets have to find a way to solve Phoenix, which has won eight of the last 11 meetings between these teams and covered in five of the last six games in Denver. Playing at home has certainly helped Denver during the season, going 37-7 (27-16-1 against the spread) in 44 games.
They are riding a five-game home winning streak coming into this matchup after beating Minnesota by three points on Tuesday. Point guard Jamal Murray stepped up with a team-high 27.2 points per game during the first-round series, along with adding 6.4 assists and 5.6 rebounds.
Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, who was a contender for a third straight year, averaged 26.2 points, 12.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game against Minnesota. He had a triple-double and scored 28 points in Game 5, despite missing 21 of 29 shots. Murray poured in 35 points to help his team overcome an early 13-point deficit.
“We started slow,” Murray said. “But once they started talking that woke us up. We locked in. We fought back in the second quarter and then I thought we did a good job executing down the stretch.”
Phoenix started slow in its opening-round series against the Clippers, getting upset as 7-point home favorites in Game 1. The Suns responded by winning four straight games to close the series, including a 136-130 final at home on Tuesday. Star guard Devin Booker poured in 47 points, dished out 10 assists and grabbed eight rebounds in 42 minutes, with 25 of those points coming in the third quarter.
“It was spiritual,” Kevin Durant said. “I don’t scream too much in games as I get older, but when he hit that 3 at the top of the key, I felt that energy and I know everyone in the crowd felt it. We feed off his aggression.”
The Suns have been outstanding since acquiring Durant at the trade deadline, going 12-1 in the 13 games that he has suited up for. Durant averaged 28.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists in 43.8 minutes per game against the Clippers, while Booker was red-hot with 37.2 points per game.
Center Deandre Ayton did his job in the paint, averaging a double-double with 16.0 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Phoenix nearly blew a 20-point fourth-quarter lead in Game 5, as the Clippers had multiple chances to tie things up in the final three minutes.
“I think it’s a good lesson for us moving forward,” Booker said. “Don’t play with your food. Finish out as strong as you can. Keep playing all the way until the whistle blows.”
Phoenix is 6-1 ATS in its last seven Saturday games and is 10-4-1 ATS in its last 15 games playing on three-plus days of rest. Denver has been excellent with extra prep time as well, covering in four straight games in the same scenario. The Nuggets are 7-2 ATS in their last nine games against a team with a winning record.
The pick: Phoenix +3.5
I might be falling for the flashy new car here, but Phoenix is clearly the favorite to come out of the Western Conference in my eyes. The Suns have too many weapons for Denver to deal with, and they know that they cannot afford a slow start like they had against the Clippers. Denver has only covered the spread four times in its last 14 Saturday games and does not have good memories playing in the conference semifinals. The betting market is giving the Nuggets credit for their sparkling home record this season, but I cannot pass on Phoenix as an underdog with Durant and Booker playing like they are.