Oddsmakers think Denver is facing a tough road against the Phoenix Suns without Jamal Murray.
The two teams are set to meet in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs after Denver closed out Portland in six games on the road Thursday night and Phoenix followed suit hours later with a Game 6 win on the road over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Phoenix — the No. 2 seed — is the favorite to win the series at -225 according to BetMGM. No. 3 seed Denver is +180.
Both teams got massive performances from their stars in their wins on Thursday night. Denver’s Nikola Jokic scored 36 points in 36 minutes and had eight rebounds and six assists. Phoenix’s Devin Booker exploded in the first quarter on his way to 47 points in the easy win over the Lakers.
Jokic is the presumptive regular season MVP and had at least 34 points in five of the six games of the series. Portland seemed content to let Jokic score a bunch and attempt to limit his playmaking opportunities. Jokic failed to record a triple double during the series and had six or fewer assists in five games, including two games with one assist each.
That was a strategy that obviously didn’t pay off for Portland thanks to performances from Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris. Porter has emerged as the No. 2 threat for Denver with Murray sidelined because of a torn ACL. His hot start on Thursday night powered the Nuggets to the series-clinching win.
Morris has taken over for Murray as the team’s primary ball-handling guard. He had 22 points on Thursday night after scoring 28 in a double-overtime win in Game 5 on Tuesday. He’s going to continue to have to be a scorer and distributor for Denver to pull the upset.
Phoenix will continue to hope that Chris Paul’s right shoulder injury doesn’t get worse. Paul injured his shoulder in Game 2 against the Lakers and appeared to re-aggravate the injury at times in both Game 5 and Game 6.
The injury appears to have limited Paul’s minutes throughout the series. After playing 36 minutes in Game 1 and logging 30 or more minutes in five of the team’s final eight regular season games, Paul has played fewer than 30 minutes in four of the last five games. Despite Denver’s thin backcourt, Phoenix could probably get away with playing Paul fewer than 30 minutes a game for most of the series — especially if Booker continues to be a workhorse.
Booker averaged over 40 minutes per game and shot 47% from the field against the Lakers while chipping in six rebounds and five assists per game. His 8-of-10 shooting performance from three on Thursday night brought his 3-point percentage up to acceptable levels. He entered Game 6 shooting just 7-of-25 from deep.
If he shoots near 40% from three against Denver, the Suns should live up to their status as significant favorites. If he struggles like he did for most of the Lakers series, the door is open for Denver to make the Western Conference finals for the second consecutive season.
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