The Western Conference Semifinals NBA Playoffs series between the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets shifts back to Ball Arena tied at two games apiece after the Suns clawed their way back at the Footprint Center.
Thanks to an absolute two-game heater from star guard Devin Booker, the Suns won both Games 3 and 4 in front of their home crowd.
Booker, who has scored 83 points on absolutely unconscious 34 of 43 shooting from the field in his last two games, appears to be a man on a mission for the Suns, who still check in as road underdogs against Denver on Tuesday night.
The Nuggets received an absolute masterclass performance from center Nikola Jokic in Game 4, as the two-time MVP erupted for an NBA Playoffs career high 53 points in a losing effort.
There is simply no way the Suns can allow Jokic to have his way with them like that in Game 5.
With starting center Deandre Ayton struggling on both ends of the floor- and ultimately getting benched at the end of Game 3- it might be time for a drastic lineup change for Phoenix in this pivotal clash.
That said, let’s get to some bold Suns predictions for Game 5 against the Nuggets.
Suns Game 5 predictions vs. Nuggets
4. Jock Landale plays more minutes than Deandre Ayton
It’s certainly been trending this way. Landale, the Suns’ backup center, played just 10 minutes compared to Ayton’s 30 in his team’s Game 1 loss to the Nuggets.
But the playing time has evened out since- especially after Ayton’s benching- as Landale played just six fewer minutes in the Game 4 win.
Ayton simply looks disengaged out there- which is the opposite of how the high-energy Landale has been playing.
Ayton, who got into a heated argument with Suns head coach Monty Williams during last year’s NBA Playoffs, didn’t communicate with his head coach all offseason after the team matched the Indiana Pacers’ $133 million offer sheet.
It just seems like the tension between Ayton and the Suns is spilling out onto the court in the big man’s efforts.
And it needs to stop in Game 5.
The numbers certainly support a switch. Landale, who owns a 110 defensive rating in the playoffs, has played much better on the defensive end than Ayton, who owns a 116.8 rating and has been getting cooked by Jokic.
Listen, it might not matter who the Suns put on Jokic.
But they could use Landale’s energy and aggressiveness on the boards- he averaged 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes this season.
If you’re not losing the rebounding that Ayton provides and you’re getting a markedly better defender- and attitude- out on the floor, what are you really losing by playing Landale more in Game 5?
2. Devin Booker cools off, but there’s no need to panic
Devin Booker has been historically great in the NBA Playoffs. Booker’s 36.8 points per game in these playoffs rank fourth in league history among all players who have played in at least eight postseason contests.
He became the first player to score 300 or more points on 70 percent true shooting in the first nine games of a postseason.
Yeah, he’s been that good.
Booker was double-teamed and blitzed by Nuggets defenders, but it didn’t matter.
There has been no stopping the Suns star lately.
But one can bet that the Nuggets will have a better plan for how to at least slow down Booker in Game 5.
Hey, he could make me look like a fool for writing this, but the Nuggets will find a way to not let Booker do his best Kobe Bryant impersonation for a third straight night.
Heck, even a slowed-down version of this Booker is probably good for a cool 30-plus points on 50 percent shooting.
But with increased defensive attention on Booker, that will open the door for a truly vintage performance from this man in Game 5.
2. Kevin Durant will remind the world who he is in Game 5
No one could ever say that Kevin Durant is playing poorly for the Suns in the NBA Playoffs this year.
The man is averaging 30 points per game on nearly 50 percent shooting from the field while chipping in over a block and a steal per game in a whopping 43 minutes a night.
If not for Booker going bonkers, we’d be talking more about where this ranks among Durant’s best playoff performances in his career.
After a couple of uncharacteristic shooting performances in Games 2 and 3, Durant was far more efficient in Game 4, pouring in 36 points on 11-for-19 shooting from the field, including 12 of 13 shooting from the charity stripe.
Durant got the mid-range jumper going in Game 4- and that is bad news for the Nuggets.
You think it’s hard for Denver to stop Booker? Forget about it if Durant gets going in Game 5.
The Nuggets have thrown everything and the kitchen sink at Booker- and Durant- to no avail in this series.
But they’ll find a way to slow down Booker with increased defensive attention on him.
That will open the door for Durant to absolutely feast in a vintage performance that will have Suns fans- and NBA ones too- going absolutely nuts on social media.
1. Suns win in overtime on a cold-blooded Durant buzzer-beater
You’d have to go back to the 2012 NBA Playoffs to find the last time Durant hit a true game-winner in the postseason.
Of course, he’s had some memorable postseason shots more recently, like a couple of absolute daggers in the 2017 and 2018 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers when he was a member of the Golden State Warriors.
Well, Durant will add to that list with his Game 5 performance against the Nuggets. Each of these last two games have been decided by seven points or less.
Both these teams know that the winner of this game is in the driver’s seat when it comes to winning the series- at least in the eyes of history.
That means that the game very well could come down to one star player simply putting the ball on the floor and getting a bucket that his team absolutely has to have.
One could argue that Booker should be the one taking any shots like that for the Suns right now.
But Durant has a history of clutch shot-making- and he will add to his legend on Tuesday night with a buzzer beater that stuns the Nuggets crowd- and gives the Suns a critical edge in this series.