Nuggets advance past Blazers, draw Phoenix Suns in 2nd round

Jun 3, 2021, 10:15 PM | Updated: Jun 4, 2021, 1:34 am

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns looks to pass around Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets d...

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns looks to pass around Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets during the NBA game at Phoenix Suns Arena on January 23, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona.(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Denver Nuggets eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night in six games, ending the series with a 126-115 win in Portland.

The third-seeded Nuggets will play the Phoenix Suns after the Suns eliminated the Los Angeles Lakers in six games later that night.

Denver was one of the few teams the Suns did not have a winning record against in the regular season. Due to the dynamics of the regular season schedule in the middle of a pandemic, Phoenix played all three of its games against the Nuggets in January, including a back-to-back at home.

After defeating the Nuggets 106-103 on Jan. 1 in Denver, the Suns lost to Denver 130-126 in overtime on Jan. 22 and 120-112 the day after in double overtime. Suns fans will remember the second loss, in particular, as Denver’s Jamal Murray hit a game-tying three-pointer at the buzzer that he traveled on.

Murray, the Nuggets’ second-leading scorer and starting point guard, tore his ACL in mid-April and is out for the rest of the season.

The Nuggets are led by MVP favorite Nikola Jokic. The Serbian averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists per game, all while shooting 56.6% from the field and 38.8% at three-point range.

Without Murray, though, Denver’s short on depth in the backcourt. Against Portland, the Nuggets started rookie Facundo Compazzo and Austin Rivers, who they signed in late April. Backup guard Monte Morris is one of the best reserves in the league, but beyond that, the Nuggets will be hoping the injured Will Barton and/or P.J. Dozier can return.

Barton has been out since April 23 due to a strained right hamstring while Dozier hasn’t played since he suffered an adductor strain on May 3. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said in late May that Barton was closer than Dozier to returning, and Denver was optimistic about Barton potentially playing in a Game 7 against Portland if it was necessary.

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