Three weeks ago, on February 8th, the Milwaukee Bucks announced shortly before a game against the Denver Nuggets that Jrue Holiday would not be available, and Bryn Forbes would be starting in his place. Now, it’s nearly come full circle, as Holiday just returned from his absence due to testing positive for COVID-19. Milwaukee hopes they can recapture the offensive magic of that first game against Denver, when they pulled out an impressive 125-112 win at Ball Arena.
Where We’re At
ESPN’s dumb rollercoaster graphic before Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers was schlocky, but darn is it still a pretty apt way to describe where the Bucks have been since they last faced Denver. They followed that win with a five-game losing streak, then flipped it on for a five-game winning spree. Now, they’re hoping to carry momentum into the All-Star Break as Holiday gets back up to speed. In the recent victories, it’s been all about Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was recently named Eastern Conference Player of the Week and is putting up ludicrous lines. Scoring 17 of the Bucks final 20 points against the Los Angeles Clippers, to go with an all-time block against Zubac at the rim, Antetokounmpo absolutely carried the Bucks to a late-game comeback against one of the West’s premier teams. The defensive execution held the Clips offense stationary down the stretch, while Giannis did work at the rim. They’ll face a far different foe this time around with Denver’s offense predicated upon the ball stylings of Nikola Jokic.
Denver is playing in a back-to-back after traveling up from Chicago last night, where they won 118-112 behind 39 points, 14 boards and nine assists from Nikola Jokic. More importantly, their rookie guard RJ Hampton entered the league’s health and safety protocols, but they were able to proceed with the game last night. As of publication, it appears this game will go on as scheduled.
Since their loss against Milwaukee, they’ve kinda been coasting. They’ve lost some games to iffy teams, including the Atlanta Hawks (whose coach just got canned, sorry Lloyd Pierce) and Wizards (twice!) Among that streak, they also knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers. Jokic continues to play at an MVP candidate level, but he’s not getting nearly enough help across the roster. Jamal Murray hasn’t carried on his outstanding playoff play into this season, and he will be looking for a bounceback after shooting just 4-17 in the first Milwaukee matchup. Their offense is top-five, but their defense continues to lag in the bottom half of the league. The Bucks didn’t attack the rim all that much the first time out against Denver, but used a 40% 3-point night, and scorching midrange shooting performance to dispatch the Nuggets. I’m expecting a bit more pressure at the rim in this one the way Giannis is rolling.
Jordan Nwora is the only notable Bucks player who is out. The Nuggets will be without Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green due to injury. Facundo Campazzo and Markus Howard were out against the Bulls due to contact tracing.
Player to Watch
Brook Lopez may not have had a role late in the game against the Clippers, but Milwaukee will need him to stay on his toes as the primary defender versus Jokic. The Joker isn’t super interested in firing away from deep, but he can do just as much damage as a passer from that area, and Lopez will need to deter him from showing him up in the paint. If Lopez can curtail Jokic’s offensive game and the Bucks other defenders trust him enough to avoid overhelping, hopefully Jokic won’t be able to make hay as a playmaker.
Game 35: Against the Nuggets, Milwaukee will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)