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Kiszla: Nuggets are quitters. Or so says coach Michael Malone. Maybe best way to put Denver out of its misery is with a broom.

TODAY

PHOENIX — The Nuggets covered the uniform, themselves and the city of in shame during a 123-98 loss to Phoenix in the NBA playoffs. If this garbage is the best the Nuggets can throw on the court, let’s take a broom to this best-of-seven series and sweep away the stench.

“I felt like we quit tonight, which is something you never want to see,” Denver coach Michael Malone said Wednesday, before turning his players every which way but loose with a rip job that questioned the Nuggets’ mental toughness and their desire to put up a fight.

To which center Nikola Jokic replied: “I didn’t quit.”

Well, alrighty then. The coach and the MVP are not on the same page. I’m not even sure they’re reading from the same book.

After being tormented by the Suns in consecutive losses, the Nuggets return home for Game 3, stuck in a hole so deep it’s starting to look like a grave.

Malone can’t sit back and let it all be. Something has to change. The starting lineup needs an infusion of fight.

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

OK, coach. I’m here to help. May I suggest benching Aaron Gordon for JaMychal Green. Austin Rivers and Facundo Campazzo aren’t getting it done, so let’s also see how much strain the hamstring of guard Will Barton can withstand, by revamping the backcourt with him alongside Monte Morris as the new starter at point guard.

“I’m at a high risk, I’m just being honest,” said Barton, who scored 10 points in 16 minutes while returning to the court for the first time since late April, when he popped a hamstring that could blow out again.

The NBA doesn’t coddle any team that mopes, while cursing its bad luck. Know what? Nobody outside of Denver cares guard Jamal Murray has been lost to a bummer of an ACL tear. And quit that belly-aching about how the refs don’t show our newly crowned MVP the same respect as LeBron James and superstars who can flaunt championship rings.

Phoenix is this year’s hot model. On a sizzling June night in the desert when the crowd called for a sweep while chanting “Suns in four!” there was a moment when the Nuggets looked as tired and stale as yesterday’s news.

With Jokic whining to the refs for a merciful whistle after missing a shot, the Suns bolted down the court on a fast break in the third quarter. What happened next was straight fire that churned in the gut of Malone. Phoenix forward Mikal Bridges stamped his name on a dunk so thunderous it shook Barton, who slammed the basketball on the floor with frustration that earned him a technical foul.

During this blowout  loss, the Nuggets were reduced to whining. Has it really come to this? Whining never wins. Whining is what losers do when they drop the ball and pick up a crying towel.

“This was an embarrassing performance, for myself all the way through our last player,” Malone said. “We’re walking out of here with our heads down, rightfully so. And there’s a reason their crowd is yelling ‘Suns in four’ and calling for a sweep, because if we play like this back in Denver, this is going to be a really quick series.”

Meaning no disrespect, may I offer a little tough love: Jokic and the Nuggets are too proud, too resilient, too feisty and too good to exit whining from the NBA playoffs.

Whining for mercy from the refs while getting burned by shots from Suns guard Devin Booker and played the fool by the magic of veteran point guard Chris Paul? That’s the definition of soft and scared.

Trouble has come knocking early in this series, with a thump that’s shaken Denver. It’s as loud as the roar that rattles the Valley of the Sun when the rowdiest crowd in the NBA stands to shimmy in salute of a dunk by center Deandre Ayton.

The Suns are young, talented and aren’t afraid to let you know it, with swag that kicks down the door. So I had no problem with Gordon blasting his teammates for playing soft and scared in Game 1.

My problem? Gordon backed up his words with zippo in Game 2, scoring a meager six points. Shut up if you can’t play.

In a Denver lineup desperately searching for a bona fide scoring option when Jokic isn’t doing the Sombor Shuffle, Gordon looked scared to take the ball to the rack on a night when the sound of the Nuggets misfiring from 3-point range was clink, clank, clunk.

“It looks really bad out there,” said Jokic, whose 24 points and 13 rebounds weren’t enough to keep Denver competitive when Phoenix began the third quarter with a 17-6 blitz that had the Nuggets hanging their heads, resigned to defeat.

After getting blown away in the Arizona desert, the Nuggets are a hot mess. There’s bickering in the locker room, where there are more bad vibes than good answers to be found.

Is it time call it quits, go home and get swept in Denver?

“We have a great home crowd,” Malone said. “But if we play like this, they’re going to boo us off the court.”

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