Wednesday features Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals series between the Denver Nuggets and Phoenix Suns starting at 9:30 p.m. ET.
The Suns jumped out to a 1-0 series lead thanks to an impressive team victory at home. Four players scored more than 20 points, but no one on the roster finished with more than 23. Their stifling defense held the Nuggets to just 105 points, resulting in a 17-point victory.
They’re currently listed as 5.5-point favorites in Game 2, and they could take a commanding lead with another victory. Teams with a 2-0 series lead have historically advanced at a 93.5% clip in a best-of-seven series, although that number has dipped to just 90% since 2012. The Clippers overcame an 0-2 deficit in the first round against the Mavericks, but the Nuggets should treat this as a must-win contest.
The Suns are currently listed at around -400 to win the series, which translates to an implied probability of 80%. That seems like a fair number given their -220 moneyline in Game 2. If you think the Suns can win this contest, history suggests they have a very good chance of winning this series.
From a fantasy perspective, the Nuggets need to get Nikola Jokic going to have any chance in this series. He was subpar in Game 1, finishing with 46.75 DraftKings points while shooting just 43.5% from the field.
Unfortunately, that will be easier said than done vs. the Suns. Deandre Ayton has been fantastic defensively during the postseason, and he did an excellent job on Jokic in Game 1. Jokic figures to see a lot of Ayton moving forward.
Jokic can improve in that matchup, but we should probably temper our expectations a bit. I definitely want him in my lineups, but I’m not as bullish about using him in the Captain spot on DraftKings.
Devin Booker feels like the stronger Captain play. He leads all players in our NBA Models with 40.6 projected minutes, and no one else is projected for more than 36.5. Booker has averaged just 1.08 DraftKings points per minute during the postseason, but that’s still the top mark on the Suns.
His individual matchup is much easier than Jokic’s, and the fact that the Suns are favored also gives Booker an edge in implied team total. Finally, Booker stands out as the best pure value on DraftKings, leading all players with a Bargain Rating of 98%.
Chris Paul can also be considered a stud on this slate, and he’s coming off an excellent performance in Game 1. He finished with a double-double thanks to 21 points and 11 rebounds, and he led all players with 49.0 DraftKings points. His Opponent Plus/Minus of +0.40 is also the top mark in our NBA Models, so he should continue to find success as long as he’s not bothered by his shoulder injury.
Ayton rounds out this price range, but he doesn’t have the same upside as the other three studs. He’s become a very good two-way center, but his production is limited to points and rebounds. He can contribute a double-double in those categories — he’s done that in 5-of-7 games during the postseason — but he’s yet to score more than 44.0 DraftKings points.
That makes him more important to the Suns than to fantasy owners. He’s certainly still worthy of consideration, but I wouldn’t consider using him at Captain.
Michael Porter Jr. headlines this price range, and he’s currently listed as questionable due to a tight lower back. He played through the injury in Game 1, but he was sporting a significant wrap around his core. He also was not on the floor to close the game, but head coach Mike Malone told reporters that Porter should be good to go. Ultimately, it’d be a surprise if this injury costs him a playoff game.
He’s an interesting buy-low option in Game 2. His price has decreased by $600 on DraftKings following Game 1, and he clearly has the ability to pay off this price tag. Porter went for 51.0 and 42.75 DraftKings points in the final two games of the Blazers series, and he should continue to serve as the Nuggets’ No. 2 option offensively. There is obviously some injury risk, but that will hopefully result in lower ownership.
Facundo Campazzo stands out as one of the best values of the day on FanDuel. He owns a Bargain Rating of 84%, and he’s coming off 36.1 minutes in Game 1. He’s projected for a similar workload on Wednesday in our NBA Models, and he’s averaged 0.86 FanDuel points per minute during the postseason.
Mikal Bridges is an easy fade for me in Game 2. He went off in Game 1, dropping 44.25 DraftKings points over 34.3 minutes, which caused his salary to jump by $1,400 for Game 2. That said, that performance is a major outlier.
He was limited to 36.5 DraftKings points or fewer in each of his previous six playoff contests, and he was at 25.5 DraftKings points or fewer in five of them. He benefited from some unusually hot shooting numbers in Game 1, so I expect some regression in that department on Wednesday.
Aaron Gordon doesn’t provide much upside, but he has been a steady contributor recently. He’s posted at least 31.5 DraftKings points in each of his past three games, yet his salary has not budged over that time frame.
Midrange players like Gordon don’t typically fit the showdown format — stars-and-scrubs is the preferred approach — but he makes some sense on this slate.
Monte Morris is my preferred target in this price range. His playing time trended up during the Nuggets’ first-round series vs. the Blazers, culminating in back-to-back performances with at least 43.25 DraftKings points. He was a major disappointment in Game 1 against the Suns, but he shot just 1-of-10 from the field. He’s a perfect positive regression candidate in Game 2.
Cameron Payne is also in this price range, and he does make some sense on FanDuel given his Bargain Rating of 91%. That said, he’s played 23.2 minutes or less in each of his past three games, and it’s hard to trust someone at a midrange salary with such little playing time.
Jae Crowder rounds out this price range, and he’s an excellent option at $5,400 on DraftKings. He managed to post a positive Plus/Minus in Game 1 of this series despite shooting just 5-of-13 from the field.
His salary decreased by $600 for Game 2, and he’s already proven he can pay off this price tag with subpar shooting numbers. That gives him a safe floor, and he has an excellent ceiling on nights when his jumper is falling.
Values & Punts
This is where these contests are often won. Everyone knows you need to play guys like Jokic and Booker, which is why those players typically command astronomical ownership. That means finding the right value plays is what’s going to separate the winning lineups from the losing lineups.
Let’s break down some of my favorite players in this range, rapid-fire style:
- Austin Rivers ($4,000 on DraftKings, $8,500 on FanDuel): Rivers continues to play tons of minutes for the shorthanded Nuggets. He’s not the most impactful player on a per-minute basis — he’s averaged 0.53 DraftKings points per minute during the postseason — but he could return value through sheer volume.
- Cameron Johnson ($3,000 on DraftKings, $7,500 on FanDuel): Johnson isn’t playing a ton of minutes at the moment, but he has displayed the ability to knock down 3-pointers in the past. If he can make a few triples on Wednesday, he could pay off his minimal salary.
- Paul Millsap ($2,600 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel): Millsap could be an interesting part of stars-and-scrubs builds. He’s averaged 1.11 DraftKings points per minute during the postseason, which trails only Jokic among the Nuggets’ regulars. He’s only projected for 11.8 minutes in our NBA Models, but that still gives him some appeal.
- Torrey Craig ($2,200 on DraftKings, $7,000 on FanDuel): Craig is the “safest” punt play on today’s slate. He’s averaged 1.01 DraftKings points per minute during the postseason, and he played 17.2 minutes in Game 1. He racked up 24.0 DraftKings points in that contest, and he’s posted a positive Plus/Minus in five straight games.
Photo Credit: Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images.
Pictured: Deandre Ayton (left) and Nikola Jokic (right).