Sure, after nine days of rest the kick-off to the proverbial "second half" of the NBA season is worthy of excitement, made even more interesting by virtue of the Bucks standing at the 6th seed in the East. Of course, today that's simply a backdrop to the seismic shift of the roster from yesterday's trade deadline, which saw Brandon Knight being sent to Phoenix while Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, and Miles Plumlee arrive in the Brew City. You can find our in-depth breakdowns of the various moving parts of the trade here and here, but to say that we're dealing with the new-look Bucks tonight is an understatement.
Trades or otherwise, though, there is still actual basketball to be played when the Milwaukee Bucks host the visiting Denver Nuggets tonight. Coming off of a much-needed break to rest and rehab, the Bucks will look to continue the winning ways that saw them win seven of their last eight games heading into the All-Star break. With Knight gone, MCW likely missing this weekend's games with a toe injury, and the other players acquired via trade still pending physicals, Milwaukee will have to head out a bit short-handed this evening. It'll be intriguing to watch how Kidd manages his production vacuum at the point, with Jerryd Bayless primed to step into the starting lineup and Ennis in line to play real minutes provided he's cleared. Giannis Antetokounmpo could also be asked to facilitate at times, and everyone will be watching to see just how big of a shift in chemistry the team takes as they lose one of the most-liked players in the locker room.
Milwaukee wasn't the only team active at the deadline, and Denver will be grappling with a short roster of their own. With Arron Afflalo, Alonzo Gee, and JaVale McGee heading out and Will Barton, Thomas Robinson, and Victor Claver coming in, the Nuggets will be hard-pressed to fill gaps until physicals are passed. Even before the additions, though, the Nuggets weren't exactly an overly impressive team -- which is also a big reason for all those moves in the first place. Head coach Brian Shaw has had difficulty reigning in his players while getting consistent production out of a roster best described as a "mish-mash".
With an offensive rating at 104.3 (20th in the league) and 107.8 (23rd) on the defensive end, Denver hasn't distinguished itself on either end of the floor this season, though their one big shining exception has been Ty Lawson. Though Lawson has run into off-court trouble and may have been hoping for a change of scenery ahead of the deadline, he's produced a sneaky-solid per-36 line of 16.4 pts/9.8 asts/3.1 rebs on 36% from 3 and 44.7% shooting overall.
Of course, excellent point guard play can only get you so far when the other players around you are so poorly fit together. Kenneth Faried hasn't taken the expected next step in his development, Wilson Chandler still has never met a contested jumpshot he didn't like, and an inconsistent rotation at center pretty much nullifies the effect Lawson can have on getting an offense moving in the right direction.
That doesn't mean that the Nuggets couldn't put it all together quickly out of the gate and make things interesting tonight, especially if the Bucks decide to take a while to get going in Knight's absence. Lawson will be better than whomever the Bucks run out at point guard, while rookie big man Jusuf Nurkic (nearly 10 points, 8.4 rpg and 2 bpg over the last five) has been causing opponents all sorts of troubles since Timofey Mozgov was shipped to Cleveland.
The last week has seen no shortage of moving parts in Milwaukee. With the buying out of Larry Sanders, Kenyon Martin being waived to accommodate yesterday's moves, and Kendall Marshall heading down to Phoenix in tow with Knight, the injury list is as follows: Jabari Parker and Damien Inglis are out for the season, Ersan Ilyasova (illness) is doubtful, and brand-new Buck Michael Carter-Williams (toe) will most likely miss this weekend's games even after he passes his physical. A couple days ago the talk in Philly was that MCW could miss 7-10 days with the injury, but we'll hopefully know more soon.
For Denver, Jameer Nelson is questionable with an Achilles strain, and beyond that they should be at full-health depending on how quickly they can perform physicals on their new trade additions. If they finalize that process, then they'll have an extra 3 bodies to choose from off the bench tonight.
Looking over the advanced stats for Denver, the one thing that they have done well on both ends is rebound. With a DRB% of 75.3% (11th league-wide) and ORB% standing at 26.2% (also 11th in the league), the Nuggets are pretty good at preventing opponents from getting second-chance opportunities while gifting themselves plenty of reloads. John Henson and Zaza Pachulia still aren't the scary rebounding tandem oh so many fans hoped they would turn out to be, so the frontcourt might be the make it or break it factor between these two teams.
Key Matchup: Bucks Production Gap vs. Nuggets Production Gap
Who can clear their trades faster? Who gets to see their newest members in flashy new colors sooner? That could be the key this evening as both teams recover and try to adjust from departed players. Since neither squad is at full strength, it should be a wash in terms of who has the more uneven production gap, but it'll be critical for less-heralded members of the rosters to step forward and provide some production.
For both teams, the most important pieces lost were both key offensive tools, with Knight having averaged 17.8 PPG and Afflalo creating 14.5 PPG. Those are pretty basic metrics, but the drop-off due to their absence, and which team adjusts better to their new holes will most likely end up being the one that comes away with the W tonight.