So far, the Eastern Conference semifinals are looking quite a bit more competitive than the Western Conference versions. The Utah Jazz jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the LA Clippers on Thursday night, while the Phoenix Suns will head to Denver holding a 2-0 lead of their own over the Nuggets.
So, Mike Malone’s crew is essentially facing a win-or-go-home situation in Friday’s Game 3. A loss on Friday wouldn’t officially end the series, but the Nuggets wouldn’t be able to overcome a 0-3 series deficit. Malone accused his players of quitting during Wednesday’s uncompetitive 123-98 setback in Arizona. We’ll see whether the players got the message as the scene shifts to the Rocky Mountains for Game 3.
Nikola Jokic was named MVP earlier this week, but he didn’t get the Nuggets to the second round all by himself. Jokic finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists in Game 2, but he was really the only player on the entire team that played particularly well. No other Nugget scored more than 11 points in a game that was essentially over halfway through the third quarter.
Will Barton returned from his lengthy absence to log 16 minutes off the bench in Game 1. He played well, scoring 10 points, but he’s not likely to be ready to assume a big-minute role after a long layoff. Michael Porter Jr. struggled to 11 points on brutal 3-for-13 shooting as he nursed a sore back. Monte Morris, who was huge in the first-round win over Portland, made just one field goal attempt for the second straight game.
Porter may be dealing with an injury, but he’s still facing pressure to step into a high-usage offensive role with Jamal Murray done for the season. Porter was very impressive as Jokic’s sidekick down the stretch of the season, but he hasn’t looked the part so far in this series. With Barton limited and Morris struggling to generate his own offense, Malone doesn’t have many other options when it comes to finding a consistent scoring threat.
Suns Firing on All Cylinders
The Suns have looked like the best team in the NBA over the last week or so. Phoenix has reeled off five consecutive wins, and none of them have been all that competitive. None of those wins have come by fewer than eight points, with both games of this series having been decided by double digits.
When you’re hot, you’re hot. The Suns have played close to perfect basketball in this series to this point. Chris Paul has looked healthier than he did in the first round against the Lakers, which is obviously a major factor. CP3 followed up his 21-point effort in Game 1 by posting 17 points and 15 assists in Game 2, all without committing a single turnover.
Devin Booker has played well, but the Suns haven’t needed their leading scorer to take over on offense. Phoenix has used a balanced effort on that end, with all five starters scoring in double figures in both games thus far. Torrey Craig and Cameron Payne have played well off the bench, while the Suns even got a contribution from Dario Saric in a small role in Game 2.
The Suns held the Nuggets to 40 percent shooting on Wednesday while making four more threes than Denver despite fewer attempts. It’s hard to imagine the Nuggets rolling over in this game the way they did earlier this week, but I’m not sure there’s a team in the league that can beat Phoenix when they’re rolling the way they have been lately.
Teams tend to bounce back whenever they return home for a Game 3, but the fact that the Suns have steamrolled through the first two games is cause for concern if you’re the Nuggets. Phoenix came into the series with more depth, and the fact that Porter is now dealing with a back injury really limits the Nuggets’ firepower.
It’s fair to assume the Nuggets will play a more competitive game tonight now that they’re back home, but I have still seen nothing in the series to make me think Denver stands much of a chance. The Nuggets benefited from a favorable matchup against a paper-soft Blazers team in the first round, while the Suns are more battle-tested after ousting the Lakers.
Maybe the Nuggets realize the ceiling just isn’t there with Murray done for the year, but they didn’t look like a team with much stomach for the fight. With Paul leading the way, it’s hard to imagine the Suns letting up. I’d expect Phoenix to remain as focused as ever as they hit the road for the first time in this series, and this is a great opportunity to get the better team at more favorable odds.
Taylor Smith has been a staff writer with GamblingSites.org since early 2017. Taylor is primarily a sports writer, though he will occasionally dabble in other things like politics and entertainment betting. His primary specialties are writing about the NBA, Major League Baseball, NFL and domestic and international soccer. Fringe sports like golf and horse racing aren’t exactly his cup of tea, bu ...
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