Preview: Denver Nuggets continue road trip in Milwaukee

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The shorthanded Denver Nuggets needed an MVP performance from their star big man on Monday night, and that’s exactly what they got. Nikola Jokić dominated the Chicago Bulls to the tune of 39 points, 14 rebounds, and nine assists, which included 17 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Denver (19-15) escaped with a 118-112 victory in Chicago on Monday and will have no time to celebrate as the Nuggets head to Milwaukee to take on the Bucks on the second night of a back-to-back. Despite continuing to be shorthanded, Denver has to feel confident given how its big three (Jokić, Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr.) have performed in recent games.

MORE: Three takeaways from win over Bulls

Milwaukee (21-13) is coming off one of its most impressive victories of the season, a 105-100 win over the LA Clippers on Sunday. The win also marked the return of Jrue Holiday, who missed extended time due to health and safety protocols.

The Bucks have been a dominant home team, going 14-4 so far this season at Fiserv. Forum. Milwaukee has slipped from the top of the league on the defensive end but has continued to dominate on offense, posting the league’s third-ranked offensive rating on the season.

This will be the second meeting between the two teams this season, with the Bucks having won 125-112 at Ball Arena back on Feb. 12.

Projected starters: Monte Morris, Jamal Murray, Will Barton III, Michael Porter Jr., Nikola Jokić

TUNE IN: 7 p.m. MT, Altitude TV and 92.5FM

Key matchup: Nikola Jokić vs. Brook Lopez

The addition of Lopez three years ago has really unlocked things for Milwaukee on both ends of the floor. Lopez’s ability to space the floor and knock down 3-pointers has provided ample space for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s drives to the basket, while Lopez has also become one of the best rim protectors in the league in recent seasons.

While Lopez may not be able to keep up with Jokić’s ability to score from all areas of the floor, the 32-year-old big man will be tasked with making life difficult for the Serbian through physical play, using his length to alter shots, and by pulling Jokić away from the basket on defense.

In the first meeting between the two teams, Lopez finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, canning two triples in the process while committing five fouls. Meanwhile, Jokić was dominant with 35 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists, while he shot 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.

The three-time All-Star’s 3-point shooting will be key on Tuesday, as Lopez is not comfortable getting out and defending on the perimeter, thus opening up plenty of opportunities for pick-and-pop threes for Jokić.

Can Murray keep the hot streak going?

Jamal Murray’s season had a slower start than some expected but looking at the 24-year-old’s numbers in February paints a picture of vast improvement.

Across 12 February contests, Murray averaged 25.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game on a 65.1 true shooting percentage. Simply put, the Canadian guard played at an All-Star level last month, and if that continues, the Nuggets will be in much better shape moving forward as the season progresses.

Murray kept up his hot-shooting in Monday’s contest against the Bulls, scoring 24 points on 8-of-14 from the field, including 50 percent from beyond the arc. In fact, Murray moved into second place on the Nuggets’ all-time 3-pointers made list on Monday, passing Michael Adams.

Tuesday’s matchup with Milwaukee will provide a nice test for Murray, who will likely be defended by Holiday for stretches of the game. Holiday has long been known as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, making Tuesday’s contest a nice challenge early in March. In the first meeting between the two teams on Feb. 12, Murray was held to 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting from the field.

Win the battle beyond the arc

Tuesday’s matchup will pit two of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league against each other. Although the teams differ in the volume of 3-point attempts (Milwaukee ranks eighth at 37.5 attempts per game while Denver sits at 15th with 34.9 attempts per game), both of these teams have enjoyed very successful shooting seasons from downtown.

Milwaukee has connected on 39.4 percent of its attempts from beyond the arc, which ranks fourth in the league. Meanwhile, the Nuggets sit right behind them, having shot 38.7 percent from the 3-point line this season.

Given that both of these teams give up plenty of attempts from beyond the arc on defense, there could be plenty of fireworks on display from deep in Tuesday’s contest.

Numbers as of Monday, March 1.

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