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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Denver Versus Phoenix Preview

Western Conference Second Round

#1 Denver (53-29) vs. #4 Phoenix (45-37)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Phoenix can win if…Kevin Durant is the best player in the series, Devin Booker averages more than 25 ppg, and Deandre Ayton scores efficiently while racking up double doubles. Chris Paul is the fourth option now and he is only expected to carry a fraction of the load that he shouldered during his prime, but the Suns need for him to stay healthy and not wear down, both of which have been issues throughout his playoff career.

During the Suns' 4-1 first round win versus the L.A. Clippers, Booker scored 37.2 ppg while shooting .602 from the field. That is by far the best playoff series performance of his career, as he had never previously averaged 30 ppg in a playoff series, and he had only once shot at least .500 from the field in a playoff series.

Durant averaged 28.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg, and 6.2 apg during the first round with shooting splits of .518/.458/.956. That is not too shabby for the second option! Of course, Durant is the first option, but the point is that when opposing teams tilt their defense toward him that gives Booker room to go wild.

Field goal attempts are sparse at times for Ayton, but he played well against the Clippers, averaging 16.0 ppg and 11.2 rpg while shooting .530 from the field. 

Paul had pedestrian numbers by his standards in the first round (13.6 ppg, 8.2 apg, and 6.0 rpg with shooting splits of .414/.348/.500) but the main thing that the Suns need from him is to just stay healthy enough to play 35-40 mpg so that they do not have to rely on their thin bench too often.

Denver will win because…Nikola Jokic is the reigning two-time regular season MVP, and he has an excellent, underrated supporting cast. Jokic averaged 26.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg, and 9.0 apg as the Nuggets beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 4-1 in the first round. Those numbers mirror his outstanding regular season production: 24.5 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 9.8 apg. Jokic ranked second in the league in rebounding, third in assists, and 18th in scoring.

Jamal Murray led the Nuggets in scoring in the first round (27.2 ppg) while also contributing 6.4 apg and 5.6 rpg. Four Nuggets other than Jokic and Murray scored at least 10.4 ppg in the first round: Michael Porter Jr. (16.4 ppg), Aaron Gordon (13.4 ppg), Bruce Brown (11.4 ppg), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (10.4 ppg).

The Nuggets' starters match up well enough with the Suns' starters, but some of the key moments in this series could happen when both teams go to their benches; I would expect the Nuggets to win those minutes, which could persuade Phoenix Coach Monty Williams to shorten his rotation, which could result in his starters becoming worn down or injured.

The Nuggets somehow managed to fly under the radar despite finishing with the best record in the Western Conference before dispatching the Timberwolves without much trouble. It is difficult to think of another top seeded team at full strength that has been so lightly regarded.

Other things to consider: Denver reached the Western Conference Finals in 2020 before battling injuries in the next two seasons. Now, the Nuggets are healthy, and they have a roster that is both deeper and more talented than their 2020 roster.

The Suns have tremendous firepower at the top of their roster, but they traded away much of their depth to acquire Durant. The Suns also lack quality size other than Ayton and Durant. Lack of depth and lack of size add up to a team that can be worn down over the course of a seven game series. Three of the Suns' starters--Booker, Durant, and Paul--each averaged at least 38.5 mpg during the first round, with Booker and Durant each averaging more than 43 mpg. I wish no ill toward any of their players, but realistically it is just a matter of time before one or more of the Suns' starters either wears down or gets injured. Booker, Durant, and Paul have all been injury-prone in recent seasons even without carrying the workload that they are currently shouldering.

Due to injuries, the Clippers lacked the necessary talent and depth to keep pace with the Suns, but the top seeded Nuggets are well-equipped to challenge the Suns.

Denver will defeat Phoenix in seven games.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:56 PM



At Thursday, April 27, 2023 12:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh I don't think Phoenix even makes it seven.

Both teams are better on offense than on defense but at least Denver actually has a defense. Ayton is the only Sun that consistently plays hard on that end now that Bridges/Johnson/Crowder are gone. Booker and KD are good when they try but with their minutes load and the Denver elevation I can't imagine PHX will have much interest in asking them to chase around Murray/MPJ on top of their offensive responsibilities. Even against LAC, Booker tried hard for about two games and Durant tried hard for maybe a quarter, and it's not getting easier from here. Paul is washed.

Proof of concept: they just gave up 130 to the Clippers with no Kawhi or Paul George on a night Westbrook couldn't hit the broad side of a barnyard.

Who is the fifth best Sun? If the answer to that question ever even might be Torrey Craig, then you're in trouble.

Injury is Phoenix's only hope, and it's probably more likely to happen to them than it is to Denver.

Nuggets in five.

At Thursday, April 27, 2023 12:22:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Each series takes on its own character. The Clippers were shorthanded and undersized, but very scrappy. The Nuggets are deeper but maybe not quite as scrappy as the Clippers. I can see the Suns winning some games in this series based on Booker and KD putting up outlandish scoring numbers.

I think that Nuggets in five only happens if the Suns suffer a serious injury to one of their core players.

At Thursday, April 27, 2023 3:40:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Phoenix is better after the trade and looks solid, but they don't look too formidable. Though, neither does Denver. Denver doesn't seem that impressive and struggled to closeout a mediocre Minnesota team. If Durant/Booker score around at least 25-30 and play well while the Suns remain mostly healthy, the Suns should win. But, it's likely at least one of Durant, Booker, and Paul will get injured soon. So, a lot more ifs with Phoenix.

At Friday, April 28, 2023 6:51:00 PM, Anonymous Eric said...


I agree with your points on Denver outlasting the Phoenix in a grueling 7-game series. As we get deeper into the postseason, the depth (or lack thereof) of each team becomes more magnified. I believe the Suns are still in their "experimental" phase since Durant had been out due to injury and because of that, their lack of an effective bench will be their undoing.

While Durant and Booker clearly exhibit a tremendous amount of coexistence as offensive dynamos, they both averaged 43.8 and 43.2 MPG respectively, in the LAC series. Even the older Paul averaged 38.6 mpg. Like you emphasized multiple times, one of these three has a decent probability of getting worn out/injured at some point sooner rather than later. While I also don't wish to witness any more injuries this postseason, history certainly tells us otherwise regarding these three. These minutes per game averages are very telling that Coach Monty has little faith in his bench as is often the case with most coaches in postseason action.

The Nuggets have a younger core of players and are more conditioned to outrun these older Suns at Denver. Plus the player with the highest MPG for the Nuggets is Murray with 38.4, and that value is lower than that of Chris Paul; Jokic and Porter Jr. so far have played 37.0 and 36.0 mpg, respectively. I have more faith in the Nuggets roster being able to handle more minutes per game than the Suns roster being able to sustain their high minutes per game over the course of what should be a classic Western Conference series.


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