Suns and Nuggets face off in round two of the NBA playoffs
Round two of the Western Conference playoffs begins for the Phoenix Suns on Saturday as they play their first game against the top-seeded Denver Nuggets.
State of play: The Suns entered the playoffs as the fourth seed in the West but Vegas oddsmakers' favorite to win the conference thanks to new owner Mat Ishbia's blockbuster trade for superstar Kevin Durant.
Between the lines: Phoenix is favored to win the series, despite Denver sporting the better record by eight wins.
Jeremy's thought bubble: Here's why the Suns should advance to the Western Conference finals:
- The addition of future Hall of Famer Durant turned a struggling contender into the favorite to win the West.
- While he's the Suns' biggest name, Devin Booker has been playing otherworldly basketball in the playoffs, averaging 37.2 points per game. He's the go-to scoring option, setting up his teammates and smothering opponents on the other end of the floor.
- There's a sense of urgency. The window on this team's championship aspirations was closing before the Durant trade, and even still, the clock is ticking. Chris Paul turns 38 before the Nuggets series ends, and Durant is only a few years behind him.
Yes, but: The Suns' win over the Clippers in the first round did not inspire much confidence.
- Phoenix surprisingly dropped Game 1 at home, and though they won the next four to close out the series, every win was a struggle, even with Clippers star Kawhi Leonard missing the last three games and Paul George missing the entire series.
The other side: Axios Denver breaks down why the Nuggets could best the Suns:
- The Nuggets are the No. 1 seed in the West for a reason. Despite a stumble into the playoffs, they dispatched the Minnesota Timberwolves with ease. Plus, they've got depth — a (rightful) concern for the Suns.
- Denver's starters don't have to play 45 minutes a game to win. The Suns' stars do.
- The Nuggets also match up with the Suns' three-headed monster of Durant, Paul and Booker. (Ayton was not included 'cause no one's worried about him taking over a game.)
- They can roll out two-time MVP Nikola Jokic, Michael Porter Jr. and, of course, Jamal Murray, who will easily match Booker bucket for bucket — he'll drop 40 in game 1.
What we're watching: Backup point guard Cameron Payne, who missed the first four games of the Clippers series with a back injury, made his playoff debut in Game 5, though he got only three minutes on the floor.
- Payne plays a major role off the bench, and the Suns will need all the help they can get against Denver, so hopefully he's ready to play some serious minutes in the semifinals.
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