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Suns @ Nuggets G3 Preview: Will Suns 2-0 lead go up in thin air?

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Phoenix faces Denver, both the team and the crowd.

2021 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Phoenix Suns Photo by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

What: Phoenix Suns (2-0) @ Denver Nuggets (0-2)

When: 7:00 p.m. AZ Time

Where: Call Arena

Watch: ESPN

Listen: 98.7 FM


This memorable playoff run continues on Friday night as, following wins by 17 and 25 points, the Phoenix Suns are headed to Denver to play Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals up 2-0. The Suns have won their last 5 games straight, doing so by an average of 18.6 points. It has been a solid run over the past week for Phoenix, but do not be surprised if the Nuggets come out punching.

It will be a challenge overcoming a Denver crowd that is ready and waiting to unleash their passion for this team. They will be in a frenzy as there will be a pregame presentation of the MVP trophy to their starting center Nikola Jokić.

We’ve been there before, seeing both Charles Barkley and Steve Nash hoist the Maurice Podoloff Trophy prior to playoff games.

The series has been relatively one-sided thus far, but don’t tell that to 16-year point guard Chris Paul. “I’m always talking about [2007-08] when we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans,” Paul said after the Game 2 victory in front of a raucous crowd on Wednesday night. “We won the first two games, beat the brakes off of them. I remember looking over there at Tim and all them, and they weren’t fazed.”

The leadership of Chris Paul will be needed entering Game 3 as he attempts to keep the young squad around him humble and hungry.

Probable Starting Lineups

Uniform Tracker

Out/Injured

Phoenix:

  • Abdel Nader (OUT, knee)

Denver:

  • Michael Porter, Jr. (PROBABLE, back)
  • PJ Dozier (OUT, abductor)

What to Watch

Deandre Ayton vs. Nikola Jokić

Why wouldn’t we start with the primary matchup of the series?

Ayton continues to exceed expectations as he has done his part in neutralizing the 2020-21 NBA MVP. There is no stopping him, there is just an attempt at containment. Dispute two early personal fouls in Game 2, Ayton played smart and avoided foul trouble. He ended the game with just those two fouls.

He faces quite the challenge tonight as he is will be in a hostile environment playing against a guy everyone is celebrating. DA will have to play smart, avoiding situations in which the referees have to blow their whistle. He got caught falling for pump fakes in the last game, something he generally does not do. Stay grounded and stay in front of the Joker.

Michael Porter, Jr.

The third-year forward, who was second on the team in scoring during the Portland series, has had a rough to games to start the Western Conference semifinals. A tweak in his back during Game 1 has hampered his ability to be the elite scoring talent that he is. More importantly, however, is how the Suns have attacked him on defense, exposing him as one of the weaker links on that side of the ball.

The Suns are keying in on Porter, attempting to put him in situations in which he has to make a decision. You can see him thinking on the above play, trying to read what is going on. Meanwhile, Mikal Bridges simply goes left, creates some space, and knocks down the 8-footer.

Porter is averaging 13 points on 34.6/29.4/75 splits. His defensive rating is 132. Only Austin Rivers (133) is worse from the starting unit. He was a -8 in Game 1 and a team worst -26 in Game 2.

Although he is projected to start, given the fact he is hurting, I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Malone switched his minutes up. This would allow MPJ to get minutes against the Suns’ second-team unit. Perhaps that is a way to find him better matchups and hide him on defense.

The Bench Play

Typically the home team bench receives the nitrous oxide boost provided by the fuel of the home crowd. Role players hold a special place in the hearts of each fanbase, and when those players connect for a three-pointer or a slam dunk, the crowd noise intensifies. We have seen occur through the first two games of this series.

When Torrey Craig is catching lobs from Cameron Payne, the arena gets so loud you’d think it’ll lift right off of the foundation. Expect much of the same from the crowd in Denver tonight. All they have heard and seen is how amazing our fans have been in this series. Don’t think that they aren’t ready to step up to the challenge of being as bonkers as the 1993 animated Disney character.

Nuggets guard Monte Morris will be the primary recipient of the Denver faithful’s cheers. He could get real hot, real quick behind their encouragement. Morris averaged 16.7 points off of the bench at home in the first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. That included 4-of-9 from deep in Game 5.

Keys to a Suns Win

Phoenix has yet to play in an opposing arena with so many fans yet this season. If the Suns can sustain the emotion put forth by the Denver crowd and the Nuggets lineup in the first quarter, I like their chances. Monty Williams will need to strategically utilize his timeouts in an effort to temper the passion of the mob.

Rebounding will be another key factor that I will be watching. One-and-done possessions, as we witnessed when Den ever would go down and start chucking three’s in the first two games, fuel the opposing offense. If they Suns can win the battle on the glass, especially the offensive boards, they win. With the Joker roaming the paint with his stellar ability to get second chance points, it will be challenging.

This one will be much closer, but due to the leadership of Chris Paul and his experience in adverse environments, the Suns will pull through.

Suns 109, Nuggets 105