A source confirmed that Barton left the NBA bubble on Wednesday to rehab his right knee and seek a second opinion. The small forward left the NBA campus after his knee condition had not improved, the Denver Post first reported.
Without starters Barton and Gary Harris (hip), the Nuggets were routed 124-105 by the Jazz on Wednesday. The best-of-seven first-round series is even at 1-1, but Utah now has momentum with its decisive win following a tough overtime loss in Game 1. Also, starting point guard Mike Conley Jr. is expected to rejoin the team in time for Friday’s Game 3.
Conley left the team for the birth of his son and returned on Monday night. Sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Conley is expected to clear quarantine in time for Game 3.
“He only adds positive,” Jazz center Rudy Gobert said. “Having someone, a player and a leader like Mike Conley back with us, it only adds positive. … He has a new baby at home, so I know he’s in a great state of mind.”
Utah got physical with the Nuggets and switched Royce O’Neale onto Jamal Murray. After Murray had 36 points and nine assists in a terrific Game 1 duel against Donovan Mitchell, the Nuggets’ point guard was held to 14 points and 6-of-13 shooting in Game 2.
Mitchell followed up his career-high 57 points in Game 1 with an efficient and impactful 30 points and eight assists in Game 2. He shot 10-of-14 from the field, including 6-of-7 from behind the arc, and scored 21 of his points in a big third quarter in which the Jazz led by as much as 27.
“If we can continue to do what we did today defensively and also make shots, we have a chance to become really special,” Mitchell said. “Not just in this series. If we can get three more, the next one.”
Barton and Harris have not played in any of the seeding games or playoff games. Denver coach Michael Malone has been saying that he will not focus on waiting for his injured starters to return. But he could have used two of his best defenders. Utah shot 51.7%, including making 20 of 44 3-pointers in Game 2. Jordan Clarkson scored 26 points off the bench.
“Jordan Clarkson was a difference-maker,” Malone said. “Third quarter, obviously we guarded nobody [surrendering] 43 points. They shot 72% in that quarter alone. That was the one quarter where Donovan Mitchell took over.”
“Their best players played well and we need our best players to play well,” added Malone, who also got 28 points each from Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. “That is the bottom line. This is the playoffs. We got to find a way to respond in Game 3.”