The Bucks will finish their four game road trip in Denver tonight, against a Nuggets team that blasted them off the floor at the Bradley Center in mid February. In what was the final game before the All-Star break, the Bucks were buried under a mountain of three-pointers, as the Nuggets scorched the nets, to finish 24-for-40 from deep.
Tonight presents Milwaukee with an opportunity to escape the road trip with a 3-1 record, though it was almost not the case, as they let the Los Angeles Lakers come all the way back from 21 points down to force overtime on Friday night. With 2:08 remaining in the third quarter, a Tyler Zeller hook shot put the Bucks up 95-74. From that point on, it became the Ivan Zubac show, as the regular bench warmer scored 16 points over the next 7:43 of play, to tie the game at 104. Both teams went toe to toe down the stretch and and bonus basketball was required.
Eric Bledsoe completely took over in the extra period, scoring 11 of his 39 points in overtime, allowing the Bucks to sneak away with an important 124-122 victory. It was a season high for Bledsoe who found the range from the outside, to knock down an also season high seven three pointers.
The Nuggets had an overtime battle of their own Friday night, outlasting the Thunder 126-125. Paul Millsap had 36 points and nine rebounds for Denver, as he hits peak form just in time for a Nuggets team that are desperately trying to get back into the playoff race. With six games remaining, they sit two games behind the New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz in the final playoff spots in the Western Conference.
Gary Harris (knee) has already been ruled out for the game tonight, while Wilson Chandler (nose), will be a game time decision. As reported by Matt Velazquez, John Henson (finger) and Thon Maker (groin) both remain questionable to return.
Despite holding the same record, these two teams find themselves in gravely different situations as the playoffs approach. For Denver, tonight is do or die, while for Milwaukee, they will place great emphasis on continuing to gain ground on the Washington Wizards in sixth. It’s rare to head out West and come back with a winning record, the Bucks managed to do it last year, and they will set out to make it two years in a row in tonights crunch match-up.
Kane’s Keys To Victory:
- Tone down the defensive aggression: We know Jason Kidd ran an overly aggressive defensive scheme, where he would have the ball handler aggressively doubled with regularity. Joe Prunty has toned down this aggressive tactic slightly, but old habits die hard, and the Bucks still find themselves leaving shooters wide open more often then you’d like. As mentioned earlier, the Nuggets knocked down a ridiculous 24 three-pointers in Milwaukee earlier this season, as they time and time again found themselves wide open with simple ball movement. Easing the help defense and trusting their players to switch, and defend one on one, will be key to stopping Denver’s plethora of outside shooters getting hot.
- Helping the ‘marquee three’: The Fox Sports Wisconsin broadcast has coined the combination of Giannis Antetokounpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe the marquee three all season. They have carried a heavy load all season and it was certainly the case Friday night. Those three combined for 94 of the total 124 points against the Lakers, an impressive but unhealthy number for a team looking to keep their stars as fresh as possible heading to the post-season. Jabari Parker, Jason Terry, Sterling Brown and Shabazz Muhammad have provided an offensive boost of late off the bench, and they will be required to do so tonight.
- Niggle Nikola: The dazzling Jokic had a first half triple double against the Bucks in February, finishing the night with 30 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, completely dominating the Bucks in every fashion of the game. He is an elite passer for his size, and can stretch the floor out to the perimeter. Antetokounmpo looms as the man for the job, and Milwaukee would be best to try and allow the Greek Freak to go one on one with Jokic as much as possible to prevent easy assist opportunities. As scary as the prospect of stopping Jokic is, they were without Paul Millsap last time, it looms as a tough night at the office for the undermanned Milwaukee big men, I hope they are ready.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus