Two of the NBA’s form teams meet in Milwaukee on the last day of regular season play before the All-Star break. The Bucks and Nuggets clash for the first time this season at the Bradley Center, in what looks to be an entertaining match up on paper.
Milwaukee improved to 9-2 under Joe Prunty with a hard fought home victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night. Letting a double digit lead slip in the fourth quarter, the Bucks steadied to finish the last 3:31 on a 13-8 run, eventually sneaking home 97-92. With their big three struggling throughout, it was an unlikely duo that chipped in to steady the ship. Tyler Zeller had 14 points and 8 rebounds, while Thon Maker finished with 12 points and 3 rebounds, in an impressive performance by the Bucks center combination missing the injured John Henson.
Denver has been on a hot streak of their own recently, winners in 8 of their last 11 to take the Western Conference’s 7th seed. The Nuggets were brilliant in taking down the San Antonio Spurs in their last outing 117-109. Nikola Jokic finished with a 23 point, 13 rebound and 11 assist triple double, his fourth of the season. Jokic leads the Nuggets in rebounds and assists, while only trailing Gary Harris in scoring.
Denver’s recent ascent in the standings is even more impressive when you factor in the injury to key off season acquisition, Paul Millsap. Injuring his wrist after only 16 games, Millsap has been out since November and isn’t slated to return until early March. Possessing a top ten offense and a bottom ten defense, the Nuggets will try to out run, and outscore you with young talent such as Jokic, Harris, Jamal Murray and Will Barton leading the way.
John Henson will again miss with a hamstring injury, hardly a surprise with the extended All-Star break just around the corner. The injury report for Denver lists Jamal Murray as probable, after he complained of chest soreness after the Nuggets with against the Spurs.
The Nuggets well and truly hold sway over Milwaukee in recent times, winning 12 of the last 14 contests between the two teams, including 5 of 7 at the Bradley Center. With a week off in the back of the players minds, it will be vital that the Bucks do not look ahead to what their week off has in store. The Nuggets are a playoff team in the West, they are confident, and they will take advantage if the Bucks again come out of the locker room low on energy.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Nullify Nuggets Rebounding: As noted above, John Henson will again miss, meaning that Maker and Zeller have the job in front of them to curtail Denver’s excellent rebounding numbers. Ranked 8th in the league for total rebounds and 2nd in the league for offensive rebounds, the Nuggets are not afraid to get dirty down low. Jokic averaging 10.5 boards per game and Mason Plumlee 6.0, in particular will give the Bucks all they can handle. After Zeller reeled in 5 offensive rebounds of his own against Atlanta, the Bucks will need him to have a repeat performance and more importantly stop Denver from getting second and third opportunities to score the ball.
- Defiant Defense: The Bucks hold the leagues best defensive rating since January 21st. In the 11 games of the Joe Prunty era, Milwaukee has held their opponent under 100 points 8 times. Denver on the other hand has scored over 100 points in eight straight contests. It’s a fair assumption to make that the Bucks success on the defensive end is largely attributed to playing poor teams with bad offenses. Tonight the Bucks get a chance to shut down the red hot Nuggets. Time will tell if they are up to it.
- Big Three Bounce Back: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Bledsoe have rarely had an off night all season, often carrying the Bucks to victory virtually on their own. Against Atlanta, they struggled, and it almost cost the Bucks. Combining to go 19-45 from the field, the trio could not find a way to get their outside shot to fall. Finishing 3-13 from deep, they often settled for long jump shots, bailing out the Hawks defense. Tonight they must return to the aggressive, efficient trio that make the Bucks extremely hard to beat when they are firing on all cylinders. It’s been such a terrific run of late, it’s time for the big three to carry the Bucks in the All-Star break on a winning note.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus