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Preview, 2nd Round, Game 1: Time for Suns to cook the Nuggets

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The Phoenix Suns begin the second round of the NBA Playoffs against the Denver Nuggets in Phoenix tonight.

DENVER NUGGETS VS PHOENIX SUNS, NBA REGULAR SEASON Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

What: Denver Nuggets (3rd seed) vs. Phoenix Suns (2nd seed)

When: Tonight, 7:00 PM

Where: Phoenix Suns Arena

Watch: Bally Sports Arizona and TNT

Listen: 98.7 FM


Rally the Valley! We need to replace the BEAT-L-A chant with something else tonight. Last series, the fans really rallied around that organic chant over and over, to the point the Lakers were jealous of the Suns rabid fan support.

So what’s tonight’s chant?

COOK-THE-NUG-GETS!

Or is it...

BURN-THE-NUG-GETS!

No? You don’t like either of those?

SMOKE-THE-NUG-GETS!

Tonight, the Phoenix Suns kick off the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs with home court advantage over the Denver Nuggets, needing every bit of 16,000+ plus fans to help them take the series lead before playing this weekend in Denver.

The last time the Phoenix Suns made it to the second round of the playoffs they vanquished a nemesis with a white-washing 4-0 series sweep of the hated San Antonio Spurs. The sweep was cleansing — giving the Suns the upper hand in the Spurs/Suns rivalry of the decade. From there, the Suns looked toward the NBA Finals while the Spurs looked like they were dunzo, out of the West elite and primed for a rebuild after getting spanked hard by the Suns.

Of course, we were wrong about all that. The Spurs simply retooled around their aging core, made the next nine straight playoffs, including two Finals appearances and a championship. The Suns, meanwhile, lost their next playoff matchup and missed the playoffs for 10 straight seasons after that. Ouch.

Let’s make THIS second round appearance a more long-lasting statement on the future of the Western Conference, shall we?


New West elite

Not one remaining West team — Nuggets, Jazz, Clippers and Suns — has ever won the NBA Championship and none have even reached the NBA Finals out of the West since 1998 (Utah). The Suns made it last in 1993, and neither the Clippers nor the Nuggets have made the Finals. This year, one of these teams will rep the West.

New blood indeed.


Probable Starters


Injuries

Suns

  • Abdel Nader (knee surgery) is listed OUT

No one else mentioned.

Nuggets

  • Will Barton (hamstring, OUT but game-to-game)
  • P.J. Dozier (adductor, OUT — no timetable for return)
  • Jamal Murray (knee, OUT till next season)

Suns Updates

Since they did NOT list Chris Paul (shoulder stinger) as injured AND he’s practiced the last two days without restrictions, I think it’s safe to say he is mostly back to normal for Round Two (until he gets smacked in the wrong spot again!).

“It’s been good,” Chris Paul said on Monday after the three-day break between series. “It’s been good for everybody.”

As long as Chris Paul looks mostly normal, the Suns are going to be tough to beat. I don’t even think the series really comes down to Deandre Ayton’s foul trouble. The best way to beat the Nuggets, in my opinion, is to let Jokic eat on single coverage, making him a score-first big, and stay at home against everyone else to make sure he doesn’t have a flame-throwing sidekick every single game. Still, Chris Paul has a lot of trust in DA doing most of the work.

“What a lot of people don’t realize about him is how competitive he is,” Paul said of Ayton. “He goes into every matchup ready to accept the challenge. That’s big for our team. We know how good Jokic is and how well he plays, but DA is just as important for our team.”

Even is Jokic goes off for 40 a night, the Nuggets still need to find 60-80 points every night from the rest of the lineup. New No. 2 option Michael Porter Jr. is a big scorer, but the Nuggets simply can’t win the series even if Porter averages 20. Let’s say Porter and Jokic get 60 a game. Who else scores, now that Jamal Murray is out?

“It’s hard to replace someone like Mal,” Chris Paul said of Jamal Murray. “But they do it by committee.”

You can’t let Austin Rivers kill you like he killed the Blazers, and that’s up to Paul and Booker and the other guys on the perimeter. Rivers went from the scrap pile, unsigned until after Murray went down, to 8.7/2.6/2.5 line with 41/37/70 splits in the regular season to 11.5/2.2/2.2 on 48/48/83 splits vs. the Blazers.

And you can’t let backup guard Monte Morris beat you. He went from 10/3/2 on 48/38/79 splits in the regular season to 15.3/5.8/3 on 44/42/78 splits vs. the Blazers. His two-man game with Jokic really helped the Nuggets stave off furious Blazers scoring rallies, and now he’s established himself as their third leading scorer in the playoffs.

“He’s a guy that plays the right way,” Paul said of Morris on Monday. “He can shoot it, score it, pass it. Not gonna turn the ball over. He’s somebody who’s going to be in this league for a long time. He just knows the game.”


Nuggets Updates

The Nuggets are missing a chunk of their guard corps, leaving them with a pint-sized 30-year old rookie point guard and a second-generation journeyman in their starting lineup to contend with a pair of Suns All-Stars.

“Campazzo, you can see how long he’s been playing,” Paul said of the veteran rookie, Facundo Campazzo. “They trust him, as they should. He plays hard, he competes every possession.”

Paul mentioned he played with Austin Rivers with the Clippers and Houston Rockets, and is happy for him playing as well as he is.


Stats

The Nuggets are different without Jamal Murray, but not a ton different. They’re still an above average offense and above average defense that looks a lot like a ‘Suns lite’. The similarities are uncanny.

After Murray’s injury, they started grabbing more rebounds and blocking more shots as the Nuggets played a bit bigger.

Prediction

Unless the Suns come in with a first-round hangover this should be a Suns win. At home. In front of crazy fans.

I do think the series goes a lot like the Lakers series. Split at home. Split on the road. Win games 5 and 6 and move on to the Conference Finals. :)

That starts with winning tonight. 120-115.