Round two begins tonight and what better way to find more about the Denver Nuggets second round opponent than to chat with someone that covers the team. Huge thanks go out to Trevor Booth of Bright Side Of The Sun for answering some burning questions ahead of the Nuggets first round series against the Phoenix Suns. It’s certainly shaping up to be a series to remember, so let’s get to the questions and some information on what to expect when the Nuggets and Suns begin their series tonight.
1.First of all, congrats on knocking out the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Just talk about how big a series win that was for the Suns and what it meant to not just the team, but the city of Phoenix.
It’s hard to put into words just how much that series meant for Suns fans. For one, it was the Lakers, a long standing rivalry dating back to the franchise’s inception in 1968. But secondly, it was proof that this Phoenix team is legit. Not a lot of national pundits — including myself, if you want to throw me in there — thought the Suns were going to win that series, especially when they were down two games to one in Los Angeles. But this team kept fighting and showed what it was all season long: a resilient, tight-knit group that doesn’t give into adversity. That’s a big credit to what second-year coach Monty Williams has established in his players and what starting point guard Chris Paul has brought to the fold, among other pieces.
2. How healthy are the Suns heading into this series and more specially is Chris Paul going to be at 100 percent?
Health has not been a concern for the Suns for most of the season, which is quite remarkable considering the challenges associated with COVID-19. Backup wing Abdel Nader has been out since March with a knee injury but the rest of the team is relatively healthy with the exception of Paul. As you hinted at, he suffered a right shoulder contusion in the Suns’ Game 1 win over the Lakers in the first round, adding to his laundry list of his injuries during the postseason. He has played since but has not appeared 100 percent, hesitating more to create his own offense. I think it’s safe to say he’s improving based on his last two games — he triggered a 7-0 fourth-quarter run for the Suns during their Game 6 win over the Lakers on Thursday — but he has taken more hits on that shoulder that have been worrisome. It’s hard to put an exact percentage on where he’s at, though the last few days of rest should help him recover ahead of Game 1.
3. How do you see the Suns trying to slow down Nikola Jokic on the defensive end of the floor?
That’s going to be the biggest challenge of this series for the Suns, and it starts with Deandre Ayton’s presence. He did an excellent job of limiting post touches and driving lanes for LeBron James and the Lakers’ bigs, though Jokic will present unique challenges with his control of Denver’s offense. Williams mentioned specifically how Jokic will come off pin down screens to get his own shots and create for others, an action that Ayton has struggled with. I think the Suns will have to be especially cognizant of cutters on the back end of their defense and be more crisp in their rotations than before. The Lakers relied heavily on James to penetrate and dish to shooters, but it seems to me that Denver will present more challenges with its overall spacing and depth of contribution.
4. Who is the biggest x-factor on the Suns that Denver needs to worry about most?
For me, it would be Mikal Bridges. He made big strides this season with his offensive output and is among the league’s best players in the NBA’s RAPTOR rating, a projection model from FiveThirtyEight that tracks individual plus-minus measurements and wins above replacement. He struggled a bit in the Lakers’ series, shooting just 38 percent from the field, but the Suns are a very difficult team to beat when he’s engaged. He will be the primary defender on Michael Porter Jr. and has long arms to contest his high release at 6-foot-10. If the Suns get stops and run out in transition — where they ranked first in points per possession in the first round — Bridges is a weapon with his ability to spot up for corner 3-pointers, which he shoots at a very high clip. In the half court, he can be a difficult player to guard with his off-ball movement and cuts off double teams on Paul and starting shooting guard Devin Booker.
5. How do you see this series going? Who wins and in how many games do they do it?
This will be a very interesting series for a lot of reasons. The Suns were not favored to advance past the Lakers and silenced a lot of critics in the process. However, there is a possibility for a hangover effect. I can’t imagine it would happen given how Williams and his players have stayed locked into their principles all season, but this is still a young team with relative playoff inexperience. That being said, the Suns present a lot of challenges for Denver with their backcourt, and health is certainly an advantage of theirs. If Phoenix can stay within its principles and execute against Jokic on both ends of the floor, I see it winning this series in six games.