Game Preview: Nuggets Eye One Last Victory Before All-Star Break
There is a bit of a mirror-image aspect to the Nuggets and Bucks matchup tonight, the last game for both teams before the All-Star break.
Their records are 1.5 games apart – the Bucks are 32-24 while the Nuggets are 31-26. Milwaukee is occupying the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, just two games back of being the third seed, yet also three games away from being the eighth seed. The Nuggets are the seventh seed in the West, just three games from being the third seed, yet also just 1.5 games away from the 10th seed.
The Nuggets and Bucks are both upstart teams looking to keep their playoff footing on solid ground. And that makes tonight’s game an important one to put in the win column, if the Nuggets can do it. They’ve already won eight of their last 11 games.
“I would love nothing more than to see another win,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “It’s going to be a heck of a challenge. They are a very good team. Obviously, we’ve had our struggles at times on the road this year.”
The Nuggets are, in fact, 8-19 away from the Pepsi Center, which is the third-fewest road victories in the Western Conference, and the least amount of road wins for any team occupying a playoff spot in either conference. So, getting a win in Milwaukee would be a nice present.
And this is a place where the wins have been plentiful.
The Nuggets have won nine of their last 14 games played at the Bradley Center. They are 21-7 against Milwaukee in their last 28 games overall. And of those wins have come with and without Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup. They swept the Bucks last season, which included a 110-98 victory at Milwaukee – a game in which the Nuggets held Antetokounmpo to just 15 points on 5-of-13 shooting.
These Bucks, however, are a good team.
Aside from the great individual talents of players like Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Jabari Parker, the Bucks are one of the better defensive teams in the league as well, ranking fifth in both steals (8.4) and blocks (5.3) per game. They do not rebound the ball that well, however, and they don’t tax a defense from the standpoint of moving the ball a ton. They’re not a huge assist team. There is a lot of isolation in their offense.
Still, they have players that can break down a defense one-on-one and that’s part of the reason why they’ve been so good since firing coach Jason Kidd. That, and they’re holding opponents to just 95.9 points per game in that span. The Bucks are 9-2 after letting Kidd go on Jan. 22.
Meanwhile, Malone wants his team to keep the pedal to the metal.
“Most importantly, aside from the win, I just want to make sure we’re playing the right way,” Malone said. “We have a good rhythm right now, I think we are 8-3 in our last 11 games. Let’s not check out mentally until after the game. These games going into the break are always tough ones because guys are thinking about that Mai Tai on that beach that they are going to be drinking. So, let’s handle our business, this is a business trip. Take care of business and then we can get some well-deserved rest (and relaxation).”
Christopher Dempsey: email@example.com and @chrisadempsey on Twitter.