Preview capsule for the Phoenix-Denver Western Conference semifinal series that starts Monday:
No. 2 PHOENIX SUNS (51-21, 4-2) vs. No. 3 DENVER NUGGETS (47-25, 4-2)
Season series: Nuggets, 2-1.
Story line: The upstart Suns and Devin Booker take on the resilient Nuggets and MVP front-runner Nikola Jokic as they seek a return trip to the West finals. Both teams were tested in Round 1 and both lost home-court advantage along the way before recovering and advancing. This could easily be the best series of the second round.
Key matchup: Jokic vs. Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton. The big man battle may be a classic in this series. Jokic is the likely MVP this season and Ayton averaged 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds while shooting an absurd 79.6% in Round 1 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers — his first playoff series.
Injury watch: Denver guard Jamal Murray (knee) is out for the rest of the season, and the Nuggets may get Will Barton (hamstring) back at some point in this series. Phoenix guard Chris Paul (shoulder) got through the series vs. the Lakers, though he clearly wasn’t his usual self.
Numbers of note: Road teams went 3-0 in the season series. Those matchups came in a 23-day span in January, with one game decided by three points in regulation, another went to overtime and the third went to double-overtime. … Both teams shot 46% against the other in the regular season. Denver was 36% from 3-point range, Phoenix 35% from deep. … Paul has been to the West semifinals six times. His teams are 1-5 in those series. … Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. was held to 10.5 points in two regular-season meetings vs. Phoenix. But Porter was a huge weapon for the Nuggets vs. Portland in Round 1.
Prediction: The Nuggets deserve tons of credit for not falling apart when Murray got hurt. But in this one, home court could be the deciding factor. A back-and-forth series it’ll be, and when it’s over, Suns in 7.
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