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To say Game 3 between the Nuggets and Timberwolves on Friday is a must-win for Denver would be the understatement of the year. There were some people -- like yours truly -- who picked the Wolves to beat the Nuggets, but no one could've predicted we'd be throwing around the word "sweep" just two games into this heavyweight NBA playoff series. But that's what the Nuggets are up against, and not only are they hoping to avoid a sweep, but they're also looking to defy some recent history that suggests there could be a curse with winning the MVP award.

Of the past five MVP winners, only one of them has advanced past the second round of the playoffs. With Nikola Jokic's Nuggets staring at an 0-2 deficit after he earned his third MVP award earlier this week, he's on the brink of becoming the fifth straight in the past six years.

NBA MVP playoff success

YearPlayerPlayoff result


Nikola Jokic



Joel Embiid

Lost in second round


Nikola Jokic

Lost in second round


Nikola Jokic

Lost in second round


Giannis Antetokounmpo

Lost in Eastern Conference finals

Even more interestingly, in each of the three years that Jokic has won MVP, his team has not made it out of the second round of the playoffs. When the Nuggets won an NBA championship last season, he finished second in voting behind Joel Embiid. Some may see that as an indictment of Jokic, but the Serbian big man is the only MVP since 1984 who has never had any teammates earn All-Star, All-NBA or All-Defensive honors (h/t Tom Haberstroh).

Digging even deeper into the numbers, according to CBS Sports' senior research editor Doug Clawson, if Jokic and Denver get bounced by the Timberwolves in the second round, it will extend the record for most consecutive seasons an MVP hasn't made the conference finals. It's currently at five seasons, with Giannis Antetokounmpo being the last one to do so in 2019 when he and the Bucks fell to the eventual champion Toronto Raptors

It would also extend the current record of seven consecutive seasons since an MVP has taken his team to the NBA Finals, with Stephen Curry being the last to do so in 2016. And if Denver loses this round or even in the conference finals if they're able to overcome this deficit, it would break the record for most consecutive seasons of an MVP not winning an NBA title, with Curry also being the last to do that in 2015 when the Warriors won it all. Currently, there are two separate eight-season streaks where an MVP hasn't won a championship in the same season, from 2004-11, and from 1972-79. If Jokic and the Nuggets don't repeat as champions this would set the current streak over the edge to nine consecutive seasons.

Last MVP to...

Playoff resultPlayer (Year)

Make conference finals

Giannis Antetokounmpo (2019)

Make NBA Finals

Stephen Curry (2016)

Win NBA Finals

Stephen Curry (2015)

Casting an even wider net, over the past 20 years, only three MVP winners have won an NBA championship, with Curry doing it in 2015 and LeBron James doing it in back-to-back years in 2012 and 2013.

So what does all this mean? In the grand scheme of things not much to the Nuggets. Worrying trend or not, they've simply been outplayed by the Timberwolves. All the length in the frontcourt is bothering Jokic, Jamal Murray looks downright flustered against lockdown defenders in Jaden McDaniels and Nickiel Alexander-Walker, and through two games Denver has failed to crack the 100-point mark. Anthony Edwards looks unstoppable against the Nuggets, regardless of who's in front of him, and the Wolves look like a team perfectly assembled to take down Denver. 

But at the very least, while this likely doesn't matter to the Nuggets, this trend shows how winning the MVP in the regular season doesn't equate to automatic postseason success, at least recently.