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Bucks vs. Nuggets Preview: The Greek Freak and The Joker Square Off

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Two of the League’s brightest international players battle tonight in the BMO

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off a depressing loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers 102-95 featuring an unusually passive performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Milwaukee Bucks travel back to Milwaukee for a mini three-game home stand. The first of those games is against the Denver Nuggets, who drubbed the Chicago Bulls 125-107 last night.

Bucks Update

In a rate bit of good news lately for Milwaukee, they learned that Michael Beasley hopefully won’t miss extended time with the hyperextended knee injury he suffered against the Cavaliers. While he won’t be available tonight, he’s scheduled to only miss the next three games before being re-evaluated.

Giannis Antetokounmpo stuffed his box score against the Cavs, but it was mostly with empty calories, as he withered around the court finishing with nine points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Malcolm Brogdon did put forth another solid effort, reaching 20 points and leading the team with 15 shot attempts. Giannis’ passiveness of course means that it falls on other players to create offense for this Milwaukee squad, and it went about as well as one might expect a Rashad Vaughn-John Henson pick and roll to go. Dellavedova made one or two plays in the fourth, but continued to exasperatingly pound the rock like a yo-yo. Frank and Eric discussed the matchup and elated over Michael Beasley’s knees in today’s Locked on Bucks:

Milwaukee’s offensive troubles haven’t actually led to an appreciable drop in their performance on that end though, and they’ve remained near the top ten in offensive efficiency due mainly to Antetokounmpo, Michael Beasley and Greg Monroe’s capabilities to make stuff happen. That seems unsustainable, and the loss of one of those players on an off-night for Giannis illustrated the obvious shortcomings in that plan.

On the bright side, Denver is nothing if not an offensively inclined team with defense remaining very optional. Their last game led to a high-scoring affair where Milwaukee missed taking one from the Nuggets on their home court, 121-117. The Bucks posted a powerful second half to make that one a game, partially behind 27 points from Jabari Parker, but couldn’t pull it out. The stylings of Nikola Jokic led to his first-ever triple double in that game, and he’ll prove an interesting guard for Thon Maker on the defensive end. Jokic’s bespoke, crafty game would seem to be a worthy antidote to the overexuberance of Maker, so the Bucks’ rookie will have to maintain patience and composure to avoid embarrassment at the Joker’s hands.

Don’t forget that Milwaukee’s newly signed Axel Toupane also played the last 20 or so games with Denver last year. Grabbing minutes due to Jason Kidd’s “Former Team Theory” is absolutely in play tonight.

Beasley is out for the Bucks tonight, and Khris Middleton should be available again after not traveling to Cleveland with the team.

Nuggets Update

In an ever welcome sight, the Denver Nuggets walloped the Chicago Bulls last night with Nikola Jokic pouring in another triple-double with 19 points, 16 rebounds and ten assists. Denver has a two game lead over Sacramento for the eighth seed in the West, but their last month has seen a fair share of peaks and valleys performances.

The Nuggets’ porous defense has slipped to worst in the league now, sitting at a 110.7 defensive efficiency. The team’s generally gone as their offense has gone over the past month. Here’s how their point totals staked up in wins versus losses during the last ten games, a stretch where they’ve gone 5-5:

Denver Point Totals in Wins vs Losses

Wins Losses
Wins Losses
125 98
129 100
132 99
131 109
110 106

The only issue with that development is Milwaukee’s defense just isn’t very good. If there has been a silver lining to the last several games though, it’s that they’ve held five of their last six opponents below their season average for three-point attempts. That wasn’t incredibly noteworthy until last night when the Bucks surprisingly even attempted more three-pointers than the trigger happy Cavaliers. Even so, with the way Milwaukee’s been guarding the pick and roll of late, I don’t blame teams for happily shoveling the ball to open men inside. Denver takes the tenth most threes in the league, 28.1, so Milwaukee should hope they can try to contain that element once again.

Denver plays at the sixth-fastest pace in the league, and sports the league’s highest rebound percentage at 53.7%. Containing Jokic and newly acquired Mason Plumlee on the boards will be a priority for Milwaukee’s frontline.

Kenneth Faried was out for the Nuggets last night with a lower back injury, and will miss tonight’s game as well.