Denver Nuggets Enter Western Conference Semifinals As Underdogs

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The Denver Nuggets are quickly becoming the Rodney Dangerfield of the 2020-21 NBA season. 

 

After making it to the Western Conference finals in the bubble last season, hopes were high for the Nuggets to make the leap. But sportsbooks weren’t so sure, putting them at +1000 to win the Western Conference, well behind the Los Angeles Lakers (+140) and the Los Angeles Clippers (+275). And to win the NBA championship? A whopping +2000, which was seventh on the board at DraftKings.

Additionally, Nikola Jokic — who is going to win the MVP award — started the season at +2200 for the honor.

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And while the surprising Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns garnered the headlines as the season wore on, the Nuggets kept their heads down and kept winning, even after losing star point guard Jamal Murray to a  season-ending knee injury in April. 

They entered the playoffs as the No. 3 seed, and were promptly installed as … pick ‘em not-favorites at -110 to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round.

And even after the Nuggets’ dramatic Game 5 victory, they were five-point road dogs for Game 6.

Of course, they went out and ended the series handily.

So tonight they enter their Western Conference semifinal series with the Suns and they are … +172 underdogs at FanDuel.

No respect, no respect.

Team in flux, still

 

Everything on this team runs through Jokic, and Michael Porter Jr. has certainly stepped up and taken some of Murray’s offensive firepower and channeled it into his game.

But after that?

Well, this is a team that continues to win despite not exactly having a steady rotation of players.

For instance: Monte Morris put up 34 shots over 74 minutes in the last two games against the Blazers; he had 38 shots over 82 minutes in the first four games. Austin Rivers? Started his first game for the team on May 9; now, as long as the game is close, expect to see him out there for 40-plus. Facundo Campazzo has been losing time, JaMychal Green gaining time, Paul Millsap … well, Millsap has been playing about the same, so never mind that, but still: Rotations for the Nuggets are certainly fluid heading into game one at Phoenix.

Having said that … on paper, it would seem the Nuggets’ rotations in the last two games against the Blazers will continue. After all, both the Blazers and the Suns are built similarly, and it wouldn’t surprise for Coach Mike Malone to not fix what’s not broken.

Jokic is key (duh)

Four, six, six, three, six, five: Those are the number of personal fouls Blazers center Josef Nurkic racked up against Jokic in the previous series. And if there’s one thing for certain in this series, Jokic is going to go hard against DeAndre Ayton, who’s not exactly known for his defensive prowess.

In the teams’ three matchups — two of which were won by the Nuggets in overtime — Jokic had his way and Ayton got in foul trouble.

In the Nuggets’ loss? Jokic was held in relative check, and Ayton stayed out of foul trouble.

Ayton, meanwhile, has blossomed in the second half of the year on the offensive side, but it’s tough to score points when you’re on the bench.

Of all the matchups this series, it’s how Ayton handles Jokic that will probably go the furthest in figuring out the winner.

Meanwhile, tonight? Over at FOXBet, the The Nuggets are +160 on the moneyline, and getting 5 points at -110. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. PT.

Jeff is a veteran journalist, working as a columnist for The Trentonian newspaper in Trenton, NJ for a number of years. He's also an avid sports bettor and DFS player. He can be reached at jedelstein@bettercollective.com.

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