It has been a disastrous start for both the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks in their conference semifinal matchups.
The Nuggets have been completely outworked by the Phoenix Suns in Games 1 and 2 while the Brooklyn Nets have blown the doors off the Bucks in both of their contests. Fear not though, these are best-of-seven series’ for a reason.
With both the Nuggets and Bucks digging themselves quite a hole, it’s still Denver that has a better chance of coming back in their series.
There is one, glaring, can’t miss problem with the Bucks situation right now and it has nothing to do with Milwaukee. It’s their opponent. This isn’t to take away from the Nuggets facing the Suns and Phoenix being legit but Brooklyn is a problem right now.
The Nets have handled Milwaukee with relative ease in both games so far and have done so without James Harden. Kevin Durant has been a flamethrower and they also have that one guy, Kyrie Irving. That’s two of the best 10 players on the planet. When Harden is in the lineup, it’s three of the best ten. Yet, they are beating up on the Bucks without “The Beard.”
Milwaukee is too good and too talented to get swept in this series but, things look really bleak at the moment. The Bucks have feasted when getting to the rim this year and it’s been a huge part of their identity. Against the Nets, they are living and dying (mostly dying) by the three ball. In Game 1, Milwaukee shot 20% from three. In Game 2, it was 29%.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee aren’t done yet but the task is a tall order, especially against a legitimate super team in the Nets. If the Bucks can rediscover what got them to this point, they have a puncher’s chance the rest of the way. It’s not as though the Nets are a big, physical team. It makes the Bucks’ performances so far that much more puzzling. If they don’t adjust, you can pull down the curtain on this season for Giannis and company.
Meanwhile, Chris Paul and Devin Booker have been a vibe in their series against the Nuggets. A day after winning the MVP award, Nikola Jokic showed up for Denver, most of his teammates did not. The Nuggets went on to lose Game 2, 123-98.
Despite this, there are plenty of reasons for optimism with the Nuggets. First, Will Barton returned in Game 2 and was one of the lone bright spots for Denver. His return comes at a much needed time for Mike Malone’s squad.
The Nuggets are also more equipped to comeback because they’ve been there and done that. This is the same Nuggets franchise with a very similar roster that trailed 3-1 in two separate series’ last year in the postseason. They came all the way back to win both, knocking out the Jazz and the Clippers. Being down 2-0 is concerning, but the Nuggets won’t be panicking.
As good as the Suns are, they aren’t the Nets. Chris Paul has been a huge addition and Monty Williams is a hell of a coach. Deandre Ayton has been a walking double-double and Devin Booker is reaching superstar status. All of that, and it still doesn’t have the same doom and gloom type feel to being down 2-0 in a series to Durant, Kyrie and Harden.
It won’t be a cakewalk by any means for the Nuggets, the Suns are absolutely legit. But it would be a massive oversight to not remember what this team did just last year in the playoffs and dispel any chance they have against the Suns.
Heading into this series, it had the feel of one that would go the full seven games. The reality so far hasn’t matched the expectations. But as odd as it may sound, the Nuggets are a team that seem to be more comfortable when they have to play with urgency and have their backs up against the wall.
Jokic is the MVP for a reason, he has shown he can carry the Nuggets at times throughout the year since Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL. He’ll need his fair share of help in this series and it’s hard to imagine Michael Porter Jr. and Monte Morris having another game where they go a combined 4-20 from the field.
The Bucks and Nuggets both face situations that not many would envy, being down 2-0. However, it’s the Nuggets, with their past results in these situations and the nature of their opponent that give them the better shot to crawl back against Phoenix in the NBA playoffs.