The Milwaukee Bucks get a chance to stretch their wings as they head west for a matchup against the Denver Nuggets. It’s the first of a four-game trip against Western Conference opponents and the third contest of their six-game overall road trip. If heading to Denver gives you some disturbing flashbacks, it’s probably because that was the final game last year’s team played before the pandemic shut down everything. That contest featured a starting lineup of Wes Matthews, Sterling Brown, Pat Connaughton, Thanasis Antetokounmpo and Robin Lopez.
Where We’re At
Milwaukee is riding high. Some might even say mile high. They’ve won four straight games, each by double digits and several by 20+ points too. Portland, Indiana and Cleveland (2x) fell in successive fashion behind a barrage of three-point shooting and a residency in the interior. Giannis Antetokounmpo looked as composed as we’ve seen him all season, flashing to the hoop for scores or dishing the ball around for quality looks. Most importantly, those passes were typically paid off. They’ll face a much stiffer defensive test this time around, with a Denver offense led by Nikola Jokic.
Denver finds themselves in the thick of the West right now, at 12-10. Their most recent contest was a 119-114 loss against the Sacramento Kings, despite 50 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds from the Joker. Jamal Murray was out for that game. Prior to that, they got beat up on by the Los Angeles Lakers, in a rematch of last year’s West Finals, and had taken down the mighty Utah Jazz. Their offense is as potent as advertised, 5th in the league per Cleaning The Glass, but they continue to struggle on the other end with the 21st best points/possession mark defensively. While they rank 6th in the league in terms of fewest shots allowed at the rim, they’re allowing opponents to shoot a league-best 70% down there. Yes, that’s Giannis you hear drooling. Denver doesn’t favor any one shot location offensively, but as always for Bucks opponents, look for them to lean on the three more than they normally might.
I’m most interested to see how the Bucks defend Jokic from the outset. Will they start switching right away, or are they going to dare Jokic to shoot? He isn’t a high volume 3-point shooter, but he is deadly at 40% this year, and is hitting 55% of his long midrange shots.
For Denver, they’re missing Gary Harris, PJ Dozier and Greg Whittington. Jamal Murray and Facundo Campazzo are both questionable. Milwaukee is healthy.
Player to Watch
Khris Middleton has been relatively quiet in terms of his shot volume over the past week, but his accuracy is as deadly as it’s ever been. Denver allows nearly the same percentage of opponent shots from deep as Milwaukee, so it could be a solid opportunity for Middleton to rain hellfire from outside. If the Nuggets opt for JaMychal Green on Middleton from the outset, I don’t think Green can stick with him nearly well enough. I expect him to cook and look for shots all game.
Game 24: Against the Nuggets, Milwaukee will
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Win big (10 or more points)
Win close (9 or fewer points)
Lose close (9 or fewer points)
Lose big (10 or more points)