Preview: Denver Nuggets go for season-series sweep of Bucks

by Eric Spyropoulos
Staff Writer
@EricSpyrosNBA

The path to the playoffs has gotten very bumpy in recent weeks for the Denver Nuggets, who have struggled mightily on the defensive end and as a result, have suffered some upset losses to teams comfortably out of the playoff picture.

Both teams have faced their fair share of struggles as of late. Denver (42-21) is 4-4 since the All-Star break, while the Milwaukee Bucks (53-11) have lost three of their past four games. Milwaukee owns the league’s top-ranked defense and third-ranked offense, a combination good for the league’s best net rating by a comfortable margin.

Although the Nuggets defeated the Bucks in Milwaukee on the second night of a back-to-back in late January, Denver has gone through several roster changes and is simply looking to rediscover its form on the defensive end.

Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has been ruled out for Monday's game in Denver.

Here are three keys to Monday’s showdown:

Take care of the ball on offense

As mentioned earlier, the Bucks have the top-ranked defense in the league and thrive in most aspects on that end of the floor. Milwaukee ranks first in opponent effective field-goal percentage, first in opponent offensive rebound percentage and fifth in opponent free-throw rate. However, there is one clear weakness in Milwaukee’s defense this season and it comes down to forcing turnovers.

The Bucks rank 24th in the league in opponent turnover percentage, highlighting their inability to consistently force opponents to cough up possessions. Although Denver’s offense ranks 10th in turnover percentage on the season, that number plummets to 28th in the league since the All-Star break, as nearly 17 percent of Denver’s offensive possessions have ended in a turnover in that stretch.

If the Nuggets can limit their mistakes, they will have a much better chance to breakdown this elite Milwaukee defense. If the Bucks win the turnover battle, Denver will be in a big hole in trying to secure a statement win.

Defending Milwaukee’s modern offense

Ever since Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer took over prior to the 2018-19 season, Milwaukee has focused on getting to the basket and bombing away from downtown. The Bucks rank fourth in the league in 3-pointers attempted per game and fourth in points in the paint per game at 50.1.

This recipe is dangerous for Denver, who is susceptible to shots around the rim and from beyond the arc. The Nuggets rank 20th in their opponent’s frequency of shots around the rim and from downtown, showcasing how teams have been able to find their desired shots against Denver’s defense.

While Denver ranks fifth in opponent 3-point percentage, teams have converted at a 65.5 percent clip around the basket against the Nuggets this season, which will be an issue against the Bucks. Milwaukee has shot 67.2 percent at the rim this season, good for the third-best percentage in the league. If the Bucks get to the rim at will Monday, Denver’s defense will be in trouble, especially considering Milwaukee’s emphasis on finding open 3-point shooters after the defense is forced to collapse.

Emphasize the 3-pointer

If there is a clear area to attack Milwaukee’s defense, it is from downtown. The Bucks thrive at defending inside the paint and from the mid-range (though they give up a fair share of mid-range attempts) but are more vulnerable from beyond the arc.

Milwaukee ranks 28th in the league in opponent frequency of shots coming from deep and 19th in opponent 3-point percentage. Denver capitalized on this in its win over the Bucks back in January, as the Nuggets shot 22-of-46 from downtown in the 127-115 victory.

Denver has been hot-and-cold from beyond the arc recently, as it has shot over 40 percent in two of the past four games, but below 31 percent in those other two games. If the long ball is going down for the Nuggets, they will have a chance of pulling off a big win at Pepsi Center.

Projected starters: Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton III, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokić

Monday’s game will tip-off at 7 p.m. MT and will air on Altitude TV (Radio: 92.5FM).

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