After averaging a double-double in his first postseason series, and shooting nearly 80 percent from the floor, to help the Phoenix Suns defeat the defending champions Los Angeles Lakers, four games to two in the first round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs, Bahamian professional basketball player DeAndre Ayton will return to the court tonight when the Suns battle the Denver Nuggets at the Phoenix Suns Arena in Phoenix, Arizona. This will be the first game of the second round in the Western Conference, and it will get underway at 10 o’clock, live on TNT.
The Suns finished the regular season as the second seed in the west with a 51-21 win/loss record. The Nuggets finished in third with a 47-25 record.
Ayton averaged an impressive 15.8 points and 10.7 rebounds in the first-round series against the Lakers while shooting a blistering 79.6 percent from the field. He was up against a tough Lakers frontcourt that included Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Andre Drummond and Marc Gasol.
In this second-round matchup, the Bahamian will face off against one of the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) finalists and Nuggets’ center Nikola Jokić.
The Suns and the Nuggets have faced each other three times this season with the Nuggets winning two out of three. All three games were back in January. Both of the Nuggets’ victories were in Phoenix. The final matchup of the season was on January 23. The Bahamian finished with a double-double in a 120-112 double overtime loss for the Suns in that game. He had 17 points and 13 rebounds on 7-for-14 shooting from the field in 38 minutes of play, and fouled out in the first overtime session.
In the first game between the two teams on New Year’s Day, January 1, Ayton led the team in scoring and rebounds with 22 and 11, respectively, shooting 10-for-13 from the field in 38 minutes of play. The Suns won that game, 106-103, on the road. The second game was a 130-126 overtime loss for the Suns – a day before the double-overtime loss. The big man finished that game with 27 points and 13 rebounds. He connected on 11 of his 13 shot attempts in 37 minutes on the floor.
In his three games against Denver this season, Ayton averaged 22 points, 12.3 rebounds and one block per game while shooting 70 percent from the field. He shot 90 percent from the free throw line.
Ayton’s main assignment, Jokić, averaged 25.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists in the three contests. He shot 50.8 percent from the field and 73.3 percent from the charity stripe.
It will be a tough matchup for the Suns center but he has stepped up his play since the start of the playoffs.
To get to this round, Ayton and the Suns took down the Lakers in what many analysts considered an upset. In game six at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, on Thursday night, the final score was 113-100. Ayton had a quiet game with eight points and three rebounds but was able to be efficient form the field, going 3-for-4. His teammate, Devin Booker, finished with a game-high 47 points.
After that game, Booker spoke about Ayton’s growth.
“Having a conversation with DeAndre and seeing the leap that he made during this series – nobody is harder on DA (Ayton) than I am. It’s been like that for a few years.”
Ayton became one of four players to score 75 points and grab 50 rebounds in the first four playoffs games of a career in the NBA.
Veteran point guard Chris Paul spoke highly of the play of the 6’ 11” 250-pound center in the first round of the playoffs.
“DA was a beast,” Paul said. “It’s almost like he was like, ‘the hell with the regular season – just let the playoffs get here.’ With the team that we have, I wouldn’t rather be here and win with a different group of guys. All these guys deserve it and I’m happy for them.”
This is the first time the Suns are in the postseason since 2010. They will look to stay hot and win the series against the Nuggets, so they can advance to the Western Conference Finals.