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The Phoenix Suns welcome the Denver Nuggets back to PHX Arena for the second game of a back-to-back “series” involving the two teams. Prior to last night’s game, the Nuggets routed the Oklahoma City Thunder on the strength of Nikola Jokic’s 27 points and 12 rebounds. Monte Morris added 15 points for the Nuggets, who were able to sit their starters in the fourth period with a 26 point lead. Meanwhile, the Suns took care of the Rockets 109-103 prior to last night’s game. Deandre Ayton scored a season high 26 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in the win. Phoenix built a 20 point third period lead, but allowed Houston to cut the lead to two with less than two minutes remaining. Ayton and Devin Booker combined to score the Suns’ last six points to secure the win.
On New Year’s Day, Phoenix defeated Denver 106-103 in a controversial ending. Chris Paul convinced Coach Monty Williams to challenge a foul call. That challenge overturned a free throw opportunity for Denver. Paul then hit a jumper to put the game out of reach. Deandre Ayton led the Suns with 22 points and 11 rebounds, while Devin Booker also scored 22. Chris Paul finished with 21 points. Nikola Jokic battled foul trouble throughout the night, finishing with 17 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists. This was the first game for the Nuggets without Michael Porter, Jr.
The Nuggets will welcome Michael Porter, Jr. back to the lineup. Porter had been sidelined with an injury since December 29 due to the league’s health and safety protocol. Both teams will be at full strength when they play this weekend.
Finally At Full Strength, Nuggets Look to Make a Run
Missing Michael Porter, Jr., and his 19.5 ppg and 6.8 rpg was a big blow for the Nuggets. He returned to the lineup last night after battling COVID, and will most likely be eased back into the rotation. Still, his presence and abilities should give the Nuggets a huge lift.
Nikola Jokic is an early MVP candidate, averaging a triple double for the Nuggets. The big man averages 25.1 points per game, 11.4rebounds per game, and 10.0 assists per game. Jokic shouldered most of the scoring load in Porter’s absence. Jamal Murray, who has averaged 19.2 points per game while shooting 34.5% from beyond the arc, has taken on a pronounced role in Porter’s absence as well.
Offensively, the Nuggets are 8th in the NBA in effective field goal percent (55.2%), 12th in turnover percent (12.7%), 1st in offensive rebounding percent (27.0%), and 19th in free throws per field goal attempts (.184). Defensively, Denver is 26th in opponents effective field goal percent (55.6%), 5th in opponent turnover percent (14.4%), 20th in defensive rebounding percent (77.2%), and 22nd in opponents free throws per field goal attempts (.198).
Suns Try To Find Rhythm After Hiatus
Tonight’s game will be the fourth game since the Suns had to postpone three games due to COVID contact tracing. In their first game back, the Suns lost to Memphis, but turned around and defeated Houston the next game. Regardless, the Suns are not nearly as hot from beyond the arc as they were before the postponements. They will need to produce outside with Jokic patrolling the lane on defense.
Devin Booker has led the way with 22.2 ppg and 4.1 apg, while Mikal Bridges has scored 14.7 ppg and 5.5 rpg while shooting 46.7% from beyond the arc. Chris Paul leads the team in assists with 8.2 per game, while Deandre Ayton averages a double double (13.9 ppg, 12.1 rpg). Ayton outdueled Jokic on New Years Day, scoring 22 points while pulling down 11 rebounds in the 106-103 win.
The Suns are 10th in effective field goal percent (54.6%), and have held their opponents to an effective field goal percent of 52.5, good enough for 12th in the league. The Suns are also 8th in the league in defensive rebounding percent (79.1). Phoenix does struggle giving up free throw attempts, where the Suns are 24th in opponent free throws per field goal attempt (.207).
The Bottom Line
What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
I like Denver in this one. The return of Michael Porter, Jr. should be enough to push the Nuggets over the edge. Of course, chemistry and conditioning may be an issue early on. But, anything that takes some of the attention off Jokic will only benefit the superstar. Jamal Murray’s emergence as another legitimate scoring option makes this Nuggets team scary. I’m taking the Nuggets in this one.
Full-Game Total Pick
Friday night’s predicted total was 219.5, and going into that game, the Nuggets’ totals had trended strongly toward the OVER. Phoenix’s totals had trended more toward the UNDER. With a little extra depth, I think the Nuggets may see a little boost in their scoring, and the Suns are always a threat to knock down 10-20 three pointers. So, I’m taking the OVER.