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Basketball Betting Analysis: Our Top NBA Picks for June 9

Denver Nuggets vs. Phoenix Suns
Wednesday, June 9, 2021 at 9:30 p.m. ET (TNT) at Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix

Denver’s Top Offensive Weapon

Yesterday, Nugget center Nikola Jokic was chosen MVP for 2020-2021 NBA season. He earned this award after leading the Nuggets this far despite the absence of star point guard Jamal Murray.

His value to the team is evident in the fact that he is the MVP. It is also evident in other facts.

In the playoffs, he has the sixth-highest usage rate. In this category, he even ranks ahead of Atlanta’s offensive centerpiece, Trae Young.

Moreover, Jokic is by far Denver’s leading scorer in these playoffs. He’s averaging 31.4 points per game, 13.1 more than any other Nugget player.

As one must expect given the central role that Jokic occupies in Denver’s offense, Denver is most likely to cover the spread when Jokic performs well and Denver’s opponent is most likely to cover the spread when Jokic has a bad game.

In the first round against Portland, the Nuggets failed to cover two games. They also lost those two games while scoring 95 in one and 105 in the other. For comparison’s sake, they scored 120 points or more in all of the other games in that series, all of which they won and covered in.

In those two losses, Jokic failed to score 30 points. He also failed to accrue five assists.

Regarding the significance of his assist total, Jokic’s ability as a distributor is arguably just as important to the Nugget offense as his ability as a scorer.

In the regular season, Jokic ranked eighth in averaging 8.3 assists per game. This assist average was by far a career high for him, as it was a team high this year.

Especially when defenses struggle to contain Jokic, they become more vulnerable to Jokic’s proclivity to run the offense by getting teammates involved through his function as a distributor.

So one key to evaluating tonight’s game is assessing the likelihood that Jokic performs well. I want to bet on this game because I have a strong read on Jokic.

Jokic in Game 1 and Beyond

Having a strong read on Jokic is possible because there is a strong data sample out there that must lead to one conclusion.

Phoenix played Denver three times in the regular season. Deandre Ayton was Jokic’s primary defender.

Jokic could not figure out how to perform well against Ayton as the latter was one of two players in the NBA to hold Jokic to under 40-percent shooting.

As one naturally had to expect, Ayton served as Jokic’s primary defender in Game 1 of this playoff series.

When Ayton guarded Jokic, Jokic shot 5 of 14 on the floor, which is a 35.7 percent conversion rate.

Ayton’s teammates helped him out by smothering Nugget cutters. Jokic wants to use his strong vision to locate teammates to pass to.

But Phoenix could devote ample attention to those cutters because Ayton was able to limit Jokic all by himself.

So I like the Sun defense tonight because, largely with Ayton, Phoenix can limit Denver’s top offensive weapon.

Without Jokic producing an MVP-caliber performance, Denver is limited in its other scoring options. This limitation is felt all the more acutely by Denver because it misses star point guard Jamal Murray.

To add insult to injury, the team’s second-leading scorer this postseason by far, Michael Porter Jr., tweaked his back in Game 1 and is listed as ‘questionable’ for Game 2.

Phoenix Inside

Defensively, the Nuggets are uniquely vulnerable inside.

In the regular season, no team was worse at limiting opposing field goal percentage within five feet of the basket than Denver was.

Jokic, for example, is a notoriously bad rim protector, who routinely struggles to limit opposing efficiency in shot attempts. He also won’t find sufficient energy on defense because of the burden that he carries as Denver’s top offensive weapon.

Plus, he has to deal with a uniquely tough task in Ayton, whose defense is solid with his combination of length, strength, physicality and his IQ, his ability to anticipate and not fall for Jokic’s characteristic pump fakes.

In Game 1, Ayton shot 6-of-8 when guarded by Jokic. Ayton, moreover, achieved an ‘and-one’ and did not turn the ball over when Jokic was guarding him.

Who Can Step Up Beside Gordon and Campazzo?

When Aaron Gordon wants to guard Devin Booker and Facundo Campazzo wants to guard Chris Paul, that still leaves Mikal Bridges.

Because Denver misses the departed Gary Harris and the injured PJ Dozier, its defensive options are limited and there is a significant drop off.

Among Nugget starters, Austin Rivers finished Game 1 with the worst defensive rating because he lacks the athletic ability to compete with the quicker and lengthy Mikal Bridges.

While attempting 11 fewer shots than Jokic, Bridges amassed 23 points.

Bridges’ scoring threat underscores the point that Phoenix has too many weapons for the Nugget defense to match up with.

Best Bet: Suns -6 at -108 with Heritage
 

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