Back in mid-2020, after the NBA paused operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns were among the darlings of the postseason bubble.
Led by the Kobe-esque play of guard Devin Booker, the Suns went 8-0 in Orlando, barely missing the actual playoffs. Meanwhile, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leapt toward superstardom in unison, guiding Denver to the Western Conference Finals, where they lost to the Lakers, who’d eventually go on to win it all.
Despite Phoenix’s addition of future Hall of Fame point guard Chris Paul, expectations were far higher for Denver last season. But the Nuggets were a step slow out of the gate before losing Murray to a season-ending injury. They were ultimately swept out of the playoffs by the surprising Suns, who made it all the way to the NBA Finals, where they raced out to a 2-0 series lead before losing four straight games to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Murray still isn’t healthy and likely won’t return until sometime in 2022, while the Suns are essentially running their roster back. Both teams improved their benches this offseason, with Denver nabbing versatile veteran Jeff Green and the Suns acquiring Landry Shamet and Olympic gold medalist/ex-Nugget JaVale McGee.
The teams face off in Phoenix Wednesday night to open the regular season, with the Suns consensus 6-point favorites. Betfred, PointsBet, and the SuperBook are among the sportsbooks offering that spread. As of Tuesday afternoon, Tipico had the Nuggets as 6.5-point underdogs, while moneyline odds on a Denver win ranged from +190 to +200. The over/under was a consensus 223.5.
Will Nuggets catch Suns this season?
Oddsmakers seem to think the Suns’ run last season was something of a fluke, as the team is drawing odds of anywhere from 15/1 to 20/1 to win the NBA Finals. Somewhat surprisingly, though, Tipico has the Suns and Nuggets both at 15/1 to be popping bottles in the locker room at season’s end.
Despite this equal standing, Tipico’s vice president of sportsbook and trading, Andre Zammit, told CO Bets, “The Suns have a young core and chemistry to build on and will likely start the season well, returning their starting five and much of their bench. I expect them to remain above Denver in the Western Conference pecking order (Suns to win Pacific Division +190), despite Nikola Jokic as the rare star who played all 72 games of the regular season last year.
“It’s a tough ask for him to carry such a heavy load once again, even as the defending MVP. And with Murray’s ACL injury likely keeping him out for a large part of the regular season, Michael Porter Jr. will have to really step up as the number two scoring option.”
Having just signed a five-year, $207 million extension, Porter is certainly being compensated like a second option and is a leading candidate to win Most Improved Player, drawing odds of +900 for it from Tipico and +1100 at PointsBet.
“The only thing stopping him from taking the next step will be his willingness to play defense,” said Zammit.
Denver’s core four boasts ‘high upside’
Until Murray returns, the Nuggets will start Monte Morris, with uber-agitator Facundo Campazzo, Austin Rivers, and promising rookie Nah’Shon “Bones” Hyland also in line to see minutes at point guard. Along with Jokic (14/1 to repeat as league MVP), Murray, and Porter, power forward Aaron Gordon — acquired late last season in a trade with Orlando — is part of the Nuggets’ core four.
But is that quartet good enough to bring a title to the Mile High City?
“This will very much depend on if Jamaal Murray is able to return to 100%, and if Porter can develop into the all-star player that Denver hopes they will be getting from their new max player,” said Zammit. “Jokic has shown he has the ability to carry a team deep into the playoffs with reliable clutch shooting. While it’s unlikely we will see all-star level play from Gordon, high-level defense and serviceable scoring should be enough to help Denver compete for a title.
“This is a talented young core with a high upside.”
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