The Bucks conclude their four game Western Conference road trip with an April Fool’s/Easter matchup against the Denver Nuggets. After losing their first game against the Clippers, Milwaukee beat a short-handed Warriors team, and escaped against the Lakers giving the teams two wins in a row. The Nuggets, like the Bucks, have a talented young player in Nikola Jokic but seem to be falling short of expectations. Today we have Adam Mares from the Nuggets SBNation affiliate Denver Stiffs answer some questions about the Nuggets season.
Denver was a team to watch going into the season and are currently on the fringe for the playoffs in the Western Conference. How do you feel about the Nuggets’ chances at making the playoffs?
I don’t think the Nuggets’ chances are very good. They probably have to win all six of their remaining games and every one of the six will be against playoff caliber opponents. So to get in, Denver would have to go on their longest winning streak of the season and do so against quality opponents. Gary Harris is also out for the foreseeable future with a knee injury. So things are not looking good for the Nuggets.
How would you describe the state of the franchise?
This was a very disappointing year for the Nuggets. Much like the Bucks, the Nuggets remain a promising team with plenty of young talent and trade assets but the 2017-18 season was supposed to be the season that the team broke a 4-year playoff drought and vaulted the team onto the national stage. An early season injury to newly acquired Paul Millsap sidelined the 4-time all-star for most of the season and prevented the Nuggets from working out the kinks between Millsap and Nikola Jokic, two supremely talented and versatile big men. Denver was able to tread water in December when Nikola Jokic suffered an ankle sprain and even rallied in January and February. But Millsap’s return on February 27th marked the beginning of a slide that has cost them horrible losses to the Clippers, Mavericks, Lakers, and Grizzlies, all games that the Nuggets needed to win. Now the Nuggets are hanging on to their playoff hopes by a thread. One more loss and they are likely going to find themselves in the lottery once again.
How would you describe Malone’s job security with the Nuggets?
This is a really tough question to answer. Malone has done a great job of changing the culture in Denver, developing the young core of the roster, and holding players accountable. The Nuggets are in far better position now than they were three years ago when he arrived. However, Malone has also been very reluctant to embrace the team’s biggest strengths (namely, the free-wheeling play of Nikola Jokic) and quick to attempt to over-correct limitations the team has at this point in their development. The team’s lowest point of the season came in late December when Malone elected to move Jokic to power forward to play alongside Mason Plumlee. The team fumbled through the end of December and the first half of January, losing home games against the 76ers without Joel Embiid, Hawks, and Suns. In short, Malone has done a lot of things really well but has also been slow to embrace the team’s identity as a high-powered offense around their point-center. I think ultimately Malone will remain with the team to play out the final year of his contract but there are real concerns that he has taken this roster as far as he can.
Like Milwaukee, you have a young transcendent player in Nikola Jokic. How do you feel the organization is doing building a team around him?
Gary Harris is a near perfect fit alongside Jokic. Harris shoots, cuts, and stays in his lane, allowing Jokic to be the team’s primary facilitator. Similar things are true of the rapidly improving Jamal Murray and the consistent Wilson Chandler. Millsap is a pretty ideal front court pairing for Jokic since Millsap is able to clean up so many of Jokic’s mistakes on the defensive end. As a result, Denver’s starting unit is among the best in the NBA, holding a +10.1 Net Rating in 345 minutes. The issue is the team’s bench. Mason Plumlee was supposed to allow bench units to maintain stylistic continuity while Trey Lyles and Will Barton were supposed to provide a scoring punch against second units. Unfortunately, that just hasn’t been the case all year.
How do you feel Denver matches up vs. Giannis?
Denver doesn’t really have anyone that can guard Giannis but they’ve had issues trying to defend Dillon Brooks, Joffrey Lauvergne, and James Johnson so it makes sense that they’d struggle against Giannis What is more interesting about the Bucks matchup with Denver is that the Bucks seem to play right into the hand of Denver’s high-powered offense. Jokic is among the best in the league at hitting cutters off of back door cuts. The Bucks have a tendency to overplay passing lanes, making them vulnerable to quick decision making and precision passing. It’s no wonder that Jokic has tallied a triple-double in all three of the team’s last matchups with the Bucks. Expect big numbers by both Jokic and Giannis and look for the first team to 115 points to come away with a win.
We thank Adam for his time. Be sure to follow him at @Adam_Mares and Denver Stiffs (@denverstiffs). This should create a high scoring matchup and Giannis vs. Jokic should results in triple doubles again.