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Bucks/Nuggets: Preview

Bucks (11-15, 2-12 road, 10th East) @ Nuggets (16-11, 11-4 home, 4th West)

Gametime: 8 pm CT
TV: FSN Wisconsin/League Pass/Free NBA Broadband
Radio: 620 WTMJ/Stream Free Gameday

Bucks Stats: Offense 19th (101.4 pts/100 poss), Defense 27th (106.4), Rebounding 9th (.512 rr), Pace 23rd (92.8)
Nuggets Stats: Offense 15th (102.9 pts/100 poss), Defense 2nd (98.7), Rebounding 23rd (.486 rr), Pace 1st (102.9)

Bucks Lineup: Mo Williams / Michael Redd / Bobby Simmons / Yi Jianlian / Andrew Bogut
Nuggets Lineup: Anthony Carter / Allen Iverson / Carmelo Anthony / Kenyon Martin / Marcus Camby

Bucks Injuries: Desmond Mason is out 6-8 weeks with a torn ligament in his left thumb. Charlie Villanueva missed the last two games with an ankle injury and is questionable, but he's returned to practice so my guess is he plays. David Noel is out with a wrist injury.  
Nuggets Injuries: Kenyon Martin missed the last game with a hamstring injury but hopes to play tonight. Nene has missed 22 games with a torn ligament in his left thumb but is expected back tonight. Marcus Camby returned against the Kings after missing the previous game with a back injury.

06/07 Series: Nuggets 2-0. The Nuggets won the opening game 104-92 in Denver on January 8 and completed the sweep a month later at the BC with a 109-102 win. Mike Redd missed both games. The teams also played twice in the preseason, the Nuggets winning both games in convincing fashion.

Key Points:

  • If you want a good example of how pace can make offensive and defensive statistics misleading, look no further than the Nuggets. Superficially you see a team scoring 106.1 ppg and allowing 102.9 and you'd guess they are a good offensive team that doesn't play defense very well. The Bucks score 95.4 ppg and allow 99.9, suggesting they play decent defense but are terrible offensively. But really it's all a matter of pace--the Nuggets have the fastest pace in the league while the Bucks are among the slowest. On a per possession basis, only the Celtics allow fewer points than the Nuggets, who rank a surprisingly middle-of-the-road 15th in offensive efficiency. The Bucks meanwhile are below average offensively (19th) and near the bottom defensively (27th) but their slow pace also skews the optics a bit.
  • How do the Nuggets play such effective defense? Well, playing at a high pace (and at altitude at home) might wear opposing teams out a bit, but aside from that three more numbers also stand out: the Nuggets lead the league in steals (9.7 spg), blocks (6.7 bpg) and forcing turnovers (17.7 TOpg). In other words, while they might not have the best individual man defenders (OK, that Camby guy is pretty good), they make up for it by gambling effectively and helping each other out on defense. Turnovers especially could be a key factor, as the Bucks have often struggled taking care of the ball and average 1.5 more turnovers per game than opponents, while the Nuggets are a +1.6 in that category.
  • Playing a fast-paced Western team should immediately remind Bucks fans of the 120-90 blowout loss in Oakland earlier this season, but fortunately for the Bucks the Nuggets (6.4/19.1 3fg per game) aren't a three point-shooting team like the Golden State team that blitzed the Bucks with 15/22 from distance. Instead, the Nuggets get to the line more than any other team in the league, attempting 30.1 fts per game.
  • The Nuggets have been shuffling their lineup a bit of late, starting Yakhouba Diawara at SF and Carmelo at PF in their last game, a 106-105 road win in Sacramento. Kenyon Martin has started most of the year at PF but missed the game with a hamstring injury, while Nene missed 22nd straight game but is expected back tonight. Anthony had 30/12 while Camby chipped in 19/14, but it was Linas Kleiza who hit a buzzer-beater to win it. Iverson went just 6/21 from the field for 21 points, snapping a string of four consecutive 30+ point outings.
  • Iverson leads the Nuggets with 26.4 ppg and 7.3 apg, continuing to chug along despite the physical pounding he's taken over the years. After averaging 28.9 ppg last year, Anthony's scoring is down to 25.4 ppg but he's been on a roll the past three games, averaging 33.7 ppg and 13.3 rpg. Not a bad one-two punch offensively, but among their most common 5-man units, Denver's starting unit has actually been their worst in efficiency terms, getting outscored by 4.4 ppg per 100 possessions.
  • After missing virtually the entire 06/07 season with another microfracture surgery, Kenyon Martin is putting up a respectable 10/6 on 52% shooting in 26 mpg. He might look to go at Yi Jianlian early after having success against him in the preseason, though he could be limited somewhat by a tender hamstring. I used to consider Martin the most overrated player in the NBA, but following all his injury problems his reputation seems to have corrected itself.  
  • As we noted the other day, Yi has come on of late, averaging 16.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg on 62% shooting over the past six games. In that span he's also been perfect from the line (17/17) and often provided the Bucks a valuable offensive spark outside of Redd and Williams. Look for plenty of pick/rolls from Williams and Yi as the Bucks will look to get the rookie off to a fast start and keep him involved throughout. Charlie Villanueva could be back tonight from his ankle injury, which will allow the Bucks a little more leeway to rest Yi, who played a career-high 42 minutes on Saturday. Yi has recently done very well against teams he's faced before, having some of his best games against Charlotte, Orlando and Minnesota.
  • Among the key storylines for the Bucks is Bobby Simmons' first start of the season, a decision LK made in part because of the Anthony matchup but he's also hinted it could be a longer term solution while Mason is out. Check out our analysis here.
  • Third-year pro Linas Kleiza has turned into a solid contributor for the Nuggets, averaging 10/4 in 23 mpg this season. The 6'8", 245 pounder has always struck me as the kind of guy I wouldn't mind having on the Bucks.
  • Check out Born a Nuggets Fan for more on the Nuggets.