The Nuggets have lost both second-round games by 20+ points. They only lost by that much three times in the regular season.

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The Nuggets have lost both second-round games by 20+ points. They only lost by that much three times in the regular season.

Getting Cold In The Rockies

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Vibes were good in Denver the past couple of days. Homegrown big man Nikola Jokic became the lowest draft pick to ever win MVP, surely a sign of present and future success.

But losing Game 2 by 25 points, they’ve been exposed in every area — starting with heart. Head coach Mike Malone certainly feels that way.

“I felt we quit tonight,” Malone said. “For Game 3, I’m just going to try to find guys that will at least go out there and leave it all on the line. I may have a hard time coming up with five guys that fill that.”

Jokic finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists, while the rest of the starting lineup combined for 26 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists on 28% shooting. They severely miss Jamal Murray.

The Suns have outscored the Nuggets by 21 PPG so far.  NBA teams own a 33-3 series record when they go up 2-0 while outscoring opponents by 20+ points. Denver’s only lost by 20+ points three times this season.

“If we play like this in Denver, this is going to be a really quick series,” Malone said.

He isn’t wrong. They have one day to figure it out — Game 3 is tomorrow night, 10:00 p.m. ET.

Must-Win In Milwaukee

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks splurged this offseason to avoid the exact situation they’re in now, trading three first-round picks (and swapped two) for Jrue Holiday and signing Giannis Antetokounmpo to a supermax extension. That strategy needs to pan out tonight.

Overview: Despite losing James Harden in the first minute of Game 1, the Nets have dominated on both sides of the ball with a winning margin of 23.5 points. Giannis is averaging 26 points on 61% shooting, but 21 of his shots have come from 8+ feet out — falling right into Brooklyn’s gameplan.

Keys: Milwaukee simply must find a way to stop the Nets. Given Brooklyn’s 49.5% FG, the Bucks are inbounding the ball under the basket instead of playing the downhill, fast-paced style that presents open-floor opportunities for Giannis. They’re averaging only 11.5 fastbreak points — they had 14.5 in the regular season (4th).

X-Factor: Khris Middleton. Giannis is getting most of the flak, but Middleton is the second star on this team, and he’s shooting 30.2% from the field. If he doesn’t get cooking, the Bucks will need to collectively open the paint for Giannis by hitting more threes — and they’re 24.6% from deep.

If the Bucks lose, coach Mike Budenholzer’s job might be on the line.

Nets at Bucks (-4), 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Rudy Can’t Fail (On Defense)

Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Kind of poetic: Rudy Gobert’s game-winning block in Game 1 was the last play he made before learning he won his third Defensive Player of the Year Award. 

He’s the fourth player in NBA history to win it at least three times, joining Dikembe Mutombo, Ben Wallace, and Dwight Howard.

Gobert received 84 first-place votes. He led the league in blocks (190) and defensive rebounds (10.1), averaging 2.7 BPG (2nd).

“When I started basketball as a kid, if somebody would have told me that I was going to be Defensive Player of the Year, I would have never believed them, let alone three times,” Gobert said.

The 7-1 Frenchman helped give the Jazz a No. 1 seed in the Western Conference — and a well-rounded reputation on both sides of the ball. 

Sure, Utah has that top-rated three-point shooting (16.7 3PM), but defense has been the steady force this season — the Jazz have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA (107.5), holding opponents to just 107.2 PPG (3rd). In six postseason games, they’re 14.9 points better with Rudy on the floor. 

The Jazz are up 1-0 against the Clippers but have their hands full with one of the best NBA offenses. They’ll need Gobert’s A-game on both ends to take L.A. down.

Around The Association: LeBron, Riley, Olympics

Mark J. Rebilas & Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports

  • LeBron James is changing his jersey number from No. 23 to No. 6 next season. James wore No. 6 from 2010-2014, winning two rings with the Heat in that time. He has a chance to become the first player in NBA history with four retired jerseys — the current record is three (Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Maravich).
  • Speaking of LeBron… Heat president Pat Riley has been fined $25,000 for violating the league’s anti-tampering rules. Riley told Dan Le Betard, “If [LeBron] ever wanted to come back, I’ll put a new shiny key under the mat.”
  • USA Basketball announced that the men’s and women’s national teams will hold training camps in Las Vegas in July before heading to Tokyo. The men’s team is expected to play seven exhibition games before the Olympics.

Game To Watch: Clippers at Jazz

Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz prevailed in Game 1 despite missing 21 straight shots in the first half. Los Angeles had a chance to tie with a three at the buzzer, but DPOY Rudy Gobert blocked Marcus Morris’ attempt. Utah will be without Mike Conley for a second straight game (hamstring).

Los Angeles Clippers at Utah Jazz, 10:00 p.m. ET (ESPN)

  • Clips +123 | Jazz -148
  • O/U: 222.5

Shoutout to Eli Wein, who accurately predicted how many points and assists Chris Paul would combine for (32). CP had 17 points, 15 assists, and zero turnovers — the first such game since he did it in 2014.

Pick ‘Em: Reply to this newsletter with your prediction for how many points Paul George will score tonight. He shot 4-of-18 from the field in Game 1. Whoever nails it gets a mention in the next edition of The Association.

TA’s Pick: 27 points!

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