The Phoenix Suns didn’t get much respect in Vegas in their first-round series with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, but that didn’t matter.
The Suns and Denver Nuggets will begin their second-round series on Monday, with the Suns set as 4.5-point favorites in Game 1. Denver, who is +175 to win the series, defeated the No. 6 seeded Portland Trail Blazers in six games in the first round.
The Nuggets have the MVP favorite in Nikola Jokic, but without star guard Jamal Murray, the Nuggets’ offense has been suspect at best. Austin Rivers showed up in a big way with 18 points in Game 5, but Denver has relied heavily on Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. to win them games this postseason.
Phoenix nearly saw its playoff hopes dashed when Chris Paul suffered a shoulder injury in Game 1 against the Lakers, but Paul has played through the pain and the Suns role players, specifically Jae Crowder, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Payne, have proven to be up to the task this postseason.
WynnBET has the Suns favored in the three most likely outcomes for this series with Suns in five (+350), Suns in seven (+350) and Suns in six (+450) all ahead of Nuggets in six (+550).
Jokic will be the biggest test for the Suns, and Phoenix was 1-2 against Denver during the regular season (Murray was still in the lineup for those three games). However, Ayton held his own against Anthony Davis and the Lakers, and his play on both ends will be crucial for the Suns’ chances of advancing to the Western Conference Finals.
Phoenix has the No. 3 defensive rating this postseason, and they will face a Denver team that is much worse defensively than the Lakers, who were the top-ranked team in defensive rating during the regular season.
Denver can certainly score, but the Nuggets have also played at the third-slowest pace this postseason, which means there won’t be as many possessions to score against Phoenix’s elite defense.
If both teams were fully healthy (Denver with Murray and Will Barton), I think this would be a hotly contested series. However, the Suns, if their role players continue to play as well as they have, definitely have more offensive firepower than Denver.
That certainly doesn’t mean the Nuggets can’t compete, but there’s a reason Vegas has Phoenix so heavily favored to win the series.