Only four teams remain in the Western Conference playoff hunt, and the #2 Phoenix Suns host the short-handed #3 Denver Nuggets in the West semifinals series. The two teams played each other three times during the regular season with two thrilling games heading into overtime.

Deandre Ayton Phoenix Suns Denver Nuggets NBA Playoffs series Nikola Jokic
Deandre Ayton of the Phoenix Suns attempts a shot against Nikola Jokic from the Denver Nuggets in an early-season meeting in January. (Image: USA Today Sports)

The Nuggets lost starting guard Jamal Murray to a season-ending ACL injury, but finished the season with the #3 seed. They also survived a first-round matchup against Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. The slow-starting Nuggets lost Game 1 against the Blazers, but still locked up the series after winning four out of the next five games.

2021 NBA Playoffs – Series Odds
#3 Denver Nuggets (47-25) vs. #2 Phoenix Suns (51-21)
Denver Nuggets +175 Phoenix Suns -220


Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns – Series Score
Suns Win 4-0 +550
Suns Win 4-1 +300
Suns Win 4-2 +400
Suns Win 4-3 +450
Nuggets Win 4-0 +1800
Nuggets Win 4-1 +1000
Nuggets Win 4-2 +700
Nuggets Win 4-3 +800

The Suns needed six games to knock out the defending champion Lakers in the first round. The Lakers became only the sixth team in NBA history to win a title, then bounce in the opening round in the next postseason.

Betting the Nuggets and Suns

The Nuggets went 2-1 against the Suns this season, but the two teams haven’t met since January. Two games went into overtime, with a third reacing double OT. The sole regulation meeting was decided by only three points.

Murray is out for the Nuggets while swingman Will Barton is still nursing a hamstring injury. He’s out for Game 1, but the Nuggets hope he can return sometime this series. The Suns are favorites at -220 odds to defeat the Nuggets and win the series, according to DraftKings. The Nuggets are an underdog at +175 odds.

The Suns are the top betting team in the NBA with a 46-30-2 ATS record. The Nuggets had a losing record betting the spread at 38-40. If you like to bet NBA totals, the Nuggets and Suns were in the top five in hitting the over. The Nuggets were fourth-best in the league with a 44-34 clip and the Suns were right behind at 43-34-1. The Nuggets were 5-1 hitting the over in their series against the Blazers.

The Suns saw their 2021 NBA championship odds bump to +900 after beating the Lakers. The Nuggets are the long shot on the NBA futures board at +2200 odds. The Suns are +210 odds to win the Western Conference, whereas the Nuggets are +900 odds

Denver Nuggets: Beat Dame, Booker next?

Nikola Jokic posted MVP numbers in the first round. He led the Nuggets with 33 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game. The sharp-shooting Nuggets shot over 40% from 3-point range against Portland, but will they be able to keep up that pace against the Suns?

Michael Porter, Jr. stepped up as the secondary scorer with 18.8 ppg. He shot 41.5% from 3-point range and knocked down several big shots in crunch time to counteract Lillard’s deep bombs. Monte Morris has been a pleasant surprise for the Nugs, helping Facundo Campazzo fill in for Murray. As the Sixth Man, Morris emerged as Denver’s third-best scorer against the Blazers averaging 15.3 ppg. He also shot 41.7% from beyond the arc.

Jokic will match up against Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton, who is the former #1 pick in the draft. Jokic has nothing short of respect for Ayton.

“If you want to have a really good big man, in general, you can pick him because he’s young,” Jokic said. “I actually talked to him in the game, told him I really liked their team because they’re a group of really good guys. They complete each other.”

The Nuggets survived Lillard, but now they face another young, high-volume scorer in Devin Booker. “Teams aren’t going to let you do what you did last game, it’s as simple as that,” said Booker. “You have to find ways to improvise. You have to find ways to get it done. We did that game to game, we had to make adjustments.”

Booker averaged 29.7 ppg against the Lakers. He also shot a blistering 43% from beyond the arc.

Phoenix Suns: CP3 and CP

Even with a banged-up Chris Paul, the Suns knocked off the Lakers. Paul injured his shoulder in Game 1, but CP3 didn’t miss a game the entire series. He averaged 16.4 ppg this season, but the one-armed Paul only scored 9.2 ppg against the Lakers due to limited action.

Every successful team needs someone to step up in the postseason. Backup point guard Cameron Payne became that guy for the Suns. He filled in for Paul when his time was limited due to a shoulder injury.

“We had another CP step up for CP3,” said head coach Monty Williams, who riffed on the fact that Paul and Payne had the same initials.

It’s been a wild ride for the journeyman Payne, who went from the G-League to helping the Suns edge out the defending champions. Payne averaged 12.5 points and shot 42% from 3-point land against the Lakers. With Payne playing so well, Williams didn’t hesitate to rest Paul for longer periods of time.

Check out more coverage of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.