Heating up in the Desert: SuperBook Sports Insider Vic Lombardi says Phoenix-Denver is far from over

May 5, 2023

How do you feel, Denver? Up 2-0. The series if yours for the taking. About to shut that damn “Suns in Four” guy right up.


“That’s a trick question,” says Denver sports radio host and SuperBook Sports Insider Vic Lombardi. “I’m a Nuggets lifer. I’m never comfortable. The Nuggets could be up 70 in the deciding game and I’d find a reason to worry. ‘NuggLife’ has hardened the longtime fan. We never get comfortable. Comfortable? Get outta here with that crap.”

Lombardi has seen – in person – the heartbreak of losing in the Western Conference Finals to the tune of 1985, 2009 and 2020; he’s also seen a whole lot of Nuggets teams that arguably should have advanced further but didn’t.

Even though the Nuggets are up 2-0, have won by an average of 14 points in the series and will be facing a Suns team missing Chris Paul, you’ll have to forgive him for his skepticism heading into Game 3.   

“I’m not concerned about how the Nuggets react as much as I’m eager to see what the Suns do next,” Lombardi says. “The Suns could change their entire game plan. Who knows, maybe they find something that works?”

Despite believing the Nuggets are the better team – just as the 2-0 lead and series price of -450 would indicate – there is apprehension in the desert.

Is that why the Suns are favored by 4?

Lombardi isn’t quite buying that. 

“Sometimes lines are based on hope,” he says. “And I think there are a ton of Suns fans out there who hope the Suns can climb back into this series. I’m not surprised by the line one bit. The Nuggets will have to bring that energy to the road.

“If the Nuggets can keep Kevin Durant and Devin Booker reasonably under control – no 50-burgers – I don’t see why Denver can’t win again. The key is the Suns bench. They got nada from their role players. If they can get something — anything — from a secondary player, things could get interesting.”

One thing is for certain (especially for you prop bettors): The Nuggets can expect the always impressive stat line from two-time MVP Nikola Jokic.

“You will always see consistent numbers out of Jokic. That’s who he is,” Lombardi says. “That’s what he does. Maybe not 39, but he will fill the stat sheet regardless. As for Murray, I think he was fatigued in Game 2. They put a body on him full court. They put him in pick-and-roll whirlpools for the entire game. The rest will suit Jamal nicely.”

So how will you bet? Denver has looked like the better, deeper team. Phoenix returns home licking their wounds.

The Nuggets are up 2-0, and the Suns may be favored by 4, but one thing is for sure: The stakes – for both teams – are high in the desert.

Friday Night Trio

Three bets worth considering when the weekend kicks off

Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers
Wells Fargo Center – Philadelphia, PA
7:30 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Philadelphia +2.0

Philadelphia turned some heads when it won the first game of this series in Boston – without Joel Embiid. The Celtics were favored by 10.5 points heading into the game and ended up losing by four.

The opposite happened in Game 2. Embiid, who was recently named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player, was able to play and the line narrowed to 7.5 points in favor of Boston. What many expected to be a competitive game turned into a blowout, as the Celtics defeated the 76ers by 34 points, 121-87.

The domination by the Celtics puts the validity of Philadelphia’s Game 1 win in doubt. It also reminded NBA fans around the world why Boston is the favorite to win it all now that the Bucks have been eliminated.

While the 76ers are far from out, and now have home court advantage over the Celtics, it is still incredibly unlikely for them to win this series. The oddsmakers seem to think so, as well. Despite being at home, Philadelphia is still a 2.0-point underdog in this one.

While that margin is small, it is unusual for the home team to be an underdog in the playoffs, especially when it comes to the conference semifinals. Nonetheless, it is a reflection of Boston’s dominance in Game 2.

That blowout demonstrated that the depth and size of the Celtics is just too much for the 76ers to handle. Boston has two All-Stars, elite post players and deadly three-point shooters.

Philadelphia will have to play out of its mind to beat this team on Friday night. Don’t expect Game 3 to be a replica of Wednesday night, but expect a Boston win.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Boston -2.5 (-110)


New Jersey Devils at Carolina Hurricanes
PNC Arena – Raleigh, NC
8:00 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Carolina -110

The Hurricanes knocked out the Islanders in six games. The Devils beat the Rangers in seven games. The two teams who saved the world from New York hockey fans now meet in the second round of the playoffs.

Game 1 was on Wednesday and Carolina won in dominant fashion, 5-1. The difference in days off looked like it played a big factor, as the Hurricanes looked well rested from their four-day break and the Devils looked exhausted after finishing a Game 7 just two days prior.

The Devils will now face a less-rested Hurricanes team and will try to even the series 1-1 as they head back to New Jersey. If they want to do so, they will need a better start.

In Game 1, New Jersey was outshot 11-1 in the first period and fell behind 2-0. A start like that is tough to come back from in any game, let alone against a team as good as Carolina.

The Devils are only slight underdogs in Game 2. If goaltender Akira Schmid can be on point, they have a very realistic shot of tying the series.

The Hurricanes, however, have been one of the best teams in the playoffs so far. The only bad game they have played was Game 3 of their first-round series against the Islanders in which they lost 5-1. Since then, they have outscored their opponents 14-7.

The Canes are a very tough team, but the Devils have faced adversity before. In their first-round series, they lost both of their first two home games and came back to win the series. The score of both of those losses was 5-1, coincidentally.

Needless to say, this one is far from over. A team like the Devils can bounce back from a bad loss. In fact, it is likely that they will.

Norm LaChatlier’s pick: New Jersey M/L (-104)


Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns
Footprint Center – Phoenix, AZ
10:00 PM ET
SuperBook Line: Phoenix -4.0

The Nuggets are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and the highest remaining seed in the NBA. Yet they are still criminally underrated.

When they faced the Timberwolves in the opening round, some so called “experts’ picked them to lose the series. And when the Suns became their second-round matchup, many believed the series was obviously tilted in Phoenix’s direction.

But after a near perfect Game 1 win and a gutty Game 2 victory, the Nuggets are sitting pretty up 2-0 in the series. The tables have now turned, as Denver is -450 to win the series and advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Two-time MVP Nikola Jokic is the reason why. From his improved defense on Deandre Ayton to his incredible scoring and passing abilities, Jokic is an opponent’s worst nightmare. In Game 1, Jokic had 24 points and 19 rebounds. In Game 2, he had 39 points and 16 rebounds. His performance in this second-round series has been nothing short of incredible.

However, it is worth mentioning that the players around him have been outstanding, as well. Jamal Murray, despite some struggles in Game 2, has had an incredible playoff run thus far. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Bruce Brown have been the defensive weapons that Denver has long awaited. And Aaron Gordon has been excellent on both ends of the floor.

The Nuggets’ defense has been the key to their victories. They held the Phoenix Suns to 87 points in Game 2, their lowest final score since Jan. 2.

The Suns are in desperate need of a win, as falling down 3-0 is essentially a guaranteed loss in the series. It won’t be easy, though.

The line for Game 3 opened at 5.0 points, but it has lowered to 4.0 in favor of Phoenix due in large part to the news regarding Chris Paul. The future Hall of Fame guard exited Game 2 with a groin injury that is now expected to keep him sidelined for at least three games.

While it is far too early to predict who will win this series, it is not looking good for Phoenix. Kevin Durant and Devin Booker will do everything they can to win, but the NBA is not a two-man sport. If the Suns want any chance of winning this one, they will need Deandre Ayton and their bench to be a lot better.

It may be a close game, it may be a battle, but Phoenix isn’t falling down 3-0. Expect the Suns to snatch Game 3.

Jason Schlefsky’s pick: Phoenix -4.0 (-110)