Nuggets vs. Suns: Fade Denver in Motivation Mismatch

Joe Dellera breaks down Thursday's NBA matchup between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns and shares his betting pick and prediction.

Nuggets vs. Suns Odds

Nuggets Odds +240
Suns Odds -295
Over/Under 223.5
Time 10 p.m. ET
Odds via FanDuel. Get up-to-the-minute NBA odds here.

Tonight features a potential preview of the Western Conference Semifinals between the Nuggets and Suns, the current No. 1 and No. 4 seeds. While this game appears exciting on its face, it may turn into a one-sided affair.

Here’s how I’m betting on tonight’s Nuggets vs. Suns showdown, including a pick and prediction.

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Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have clinched the top seed in the Western Conference and may elect to rest their starters, or at least not play them their full rotations. The Nuggets have listed Nikola Jokic (calf), Jamal Murray (thumb) and Zeke Nnaji (knee) as questionable for tonight’s contest.

It appears that the Nuggets will play Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. and Bruce Brown at the time of this writing, but it still would not be surprising if their minutes are managed and we see a bit more of Christian Braun (who has been awesome in an expanded role).

Tonight’s game comes down to motivation for the Nuggets. They have been the best team in the West so far this season and have a +2.7 Adjusted Net Rating on the entire season, which has been buoyed by the league’s fifth-best offense (117.1 Adjusted Offensive Rating).

Surviving the non-Jokic minutes has been major problem that continues to plague Denver. When Jokic is on the floor, the Nuggets have a +13.4 Point Differential and score 125.6 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass.

However, when he’s off the floor, this drops precipitously. The Nuggets have a -13.1 Point Differential and score just 105.8 points per 100 while allowing 118.8. That is one of the worst sample sizes in the league and would be worse than the San Antonio Spurs on their full-season numbers.

Phoenix Suns

The Suns are likely locked into the 4-seed in the West; however, with Kevin Durant returning from injury, there remains a desire to play and garner more on-court chemistry amongst the starters.

I wrote at length about the Suns and Kevin Durant’s fit in my Weekly Player Props Forecast. I will be targeting Devin Booker’s First Quarter Assists Prop tonight whenever it opens. It’s been at 1.5 the last few games, and he’s exceeded that total in six of seven games alongside Durant.

The Suns have been incredible with Durant and look to continue their undefeated run with him in the lineup. When Durant is on the floor, the Suns have posted a +14.8 Point Differential, and their intended starting lineup of Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Josh Okogie, Durant and Deandre Ayton has a +20.1 Point Differential as well.

This team can score at any level and has been strong defensively as well. While the motivation for tonight is more related to team chemistry, I expect the Suns to perform well with this lineup.

Nuggets-Suns Pick

The Nuggets simply have nothing to play for tonight, and there is no real reason for them to show any of the schemes they may deploy against the Suns in a potential Western Conference Semifinals matchup. If anything, this is a good opportunity for them to figure out which of their non-starters are deserving of playoff minutes moving forward.

I fully expect the Suns to take control of this game, and even if the Nuggets don’t fully rest their starters, it would not be a surprise if their minutes are limited like when Jokic played just 25 minutes on Tuesday against the Rockets.