The second round of the playoffs is nearly underway for the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns, and the two Western Conference teams are set to face off on Monday at 10:00 p.m. ET to kick off a new week of NBA action. Denver is hoping to beat Phoenix for the third time in a row as a road underdog, but the No. 2 seed won’t make that easy.
Below is a look at a number of predictions ahead of Monday night’s game for the Free $5K DraftKings Pools - Playoff Edition (DEN-PHO).
Nuggets vs. Suns Game 1 pool picks
Which team will cover the spread? Suns -5.5 or Nuggets +5.5
The Suns are 16-2 straight up in the last 18 home games and topped the Los Angeles Lakers by an average of more than 10 points in wins during the first round. The Lakers had the NBA’s best regular-season defensive rating despite lengthy absences from Anthony Davis and LeBron James, and the Nuggets are significantly worse defensively. Denver’s point guard rotation, which consists of Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, and Monte Morris, is poorly equipped to slow down Chris Paul and Devin Booker, so I like Phoenix’s odds to cover.
Total points scored? O/U 219.5
The Suns have a well-rounded defense but haven’t been able to get the Nuggets’ number in Phoenix. The point total over has hit in eight of Denver’s last nine road games against Phoneix. While the last two matchups between these two teams ending in overtime factors into that, Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. have been too efficient scoring the ball to come crashing to a halt. Both members of the duo have shot better than 50% from the field and 40% from three since April and combined for 51.8 points per game against the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round. That kind of proficiency will create open looks for role players and helped the Nuggets to average 120 points per game in the first round.
Which team will reach 30 points first? Nuggets or Suns
Phoenix scored at least 30 first-quarter points in three of its four wins against Los Angeles. The Nuggets forked up at least 30 points to the regular season’s most dominant first-quarter offense four times in six games last round and relied on its offense rather than getting stops. The Suns should be able to replicate that success at home by taking advantage of desirable matchups, so I’m rolling with the home team.
Which team will score the most 3-pointers? Nuggets or Suns
Denver averaged a little more than 15 made 3’s per game in the first round, and that would’ve been good for third-best in the NBA during the regular season. Phoenix faced an elite three-point defense in the first round and tallied a lowly 11 made 3’s per game. While the Suns should bounce back against a less-competent defensive team, too many of its players depend on mid-range shots to score. The Nuggets should maintain an edge here and sink more triples.
Who will have most points and rebounds? Michael Porter Jr. or Deandre Ayton?
MPJ has become an impressive second option for the Nuggets and has the higher scoring upside in this pairing. Ayton, however, averaged a double-double against Jokic during the regular season and tallied four in six games during the first round. MPJ cracked 25 points three times in six first-round games. Ayton cracked 20 in his first three playoff games of the campaign but took less than five shots in each of his last two matchups against the Lakers. MPJ is too valuable on offense to have such low shooting volume, so I’ll roll with the Nuggets wing.
Nikola Jokic points, rebounds, and assists: Over/Under 48.5
Playoff Jokic is a different beast and hit this over in five of his six first-round games. His increased offensive workload resulted in 33 points per game from the MVP frontrunner against Portland, and Ayton is far from being able to defend him. Jokic averaged a double-double on 25.6 points per game against Phoenix during the regular season and should see that number rise with Jamal Murray out.
Devin Booker total points, rebounds, assists: Over/Under 39.5
Booker looked like the best player on the court for spurts in the Lakers-Suns series and averaged 29.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5 assists per game against an elite defense. His primary defenders in the second round will likely be some combination of Austin Rivers and Monte Morris, so averaging 30 should be easy. His assist numbers could rise if CP3 is still affected by the shoulder injury he suffered in Round 1, so I’d smash the over here.
Which team will win the fourth quarter: Nuggets or Suns
Denver and Phoenix were both below-average teams in terms of fourth-quarter scoring during the regular season. The Suns surprisingly only won one fourth quarter during the first round, but the Nuggets made a habit out of making comebacks. Denver only lost one fourth quarter in its six-game series against the Trail Blazers and will likely need to play from behind as the underdog. The road team should win the final frame here.
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