Both players have been atop the MVP discussion throughout the season. Will the Joker conquer Giannis on his home court?
The Denver Nuggets and the Milwaukee Bucks will clash tonight in a battle between the two MVP candidates. Jokic and the Nuggets carry four straight wins and nine of their last twelve into Milwaukee. The Bucks have won four of their last five games and four straight at home. The Nuggets also carry a certain amount of offensive confidence into the arena as well. They have scored 110+ points in six straight games and in eight of their last nine. Nikola Jokic has certainly aided the effort in this winning streak. Over the last six games, he is averaging 32 points, 13 rebounds, and 9.5 assists. There are very few in the league who can share similar success and Giannis is one of those players. Over his last six, he averages 30.8 points, 11 rebounds, and 4.8 assists.
Over the course of the entire season, Milwaukee has been one of the best offenses in the league. They average 112 points per game on 45% shooting from the floor and 36% from three. Although the Nuggets have not held as much offensive consistency throughout the season, they are scorching of late. Over their last ten games, the Nuggets are second in the league in scoring at 117.5 PPG, 4th in 3P% at 37%, and atop the assists leaderboard at 30.2 per game. Although Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. are still sidelined due to injury, the talent will be abundant on the floor tonight. It is not often two MVP candidates face off during a competitive MVP chase, but tonight we sit back and witness greatness.
Who: Denver Nuggets (27-21, 14-12 away) @ Milwaukee Bucks (31-20, 18-8 home)
When: 5:00 PM MT
Where: Fiserv Forum
How to watch/listen: NBA League Pass, Altitude TV (If you’re lucky enough), or 92.5 FM KKSE Altitude Sports Radio
Rival Blog: Brew Hoop
Expected Starting Lineups:
MIL: PG Jrue Holiday, SG Grayson Allen, SF Khris Middleton, PF Giannis Antetokounmpo, C Bobby Portis
DEN: PG Monte Morris, SG Will Barton, SF Aaron Gordon, PF Jeff Green, C Nikola Jokic
Injuries: Will Barton (day to day), Vlatko Cancar (out), DeMarcus Cousins (day to day), Brook Lopez (out), Rodney Hood (day to day), George Hill (day to day)
Protect the paint
The Bucks are not as dominant of a paint-scoring team as some may think this season. They rank 25th in scoring in the paint while the Nuggets hold the 12th spot. Defense is where they excel in the paint. They hold opponents to just 42.4 points in the paint per game which is the 5th best in the league. The Nuggets are 24th in that category and should get a steady diet of Giannis diving to the rim tonight. Their center Bobby Portis has also been excellent for them offensively. He averages 15 points per game on 47% shooting from the field and is a deadeye when open from three. Like many teams, the Bucks love the drive and kick opportunities especially with the ball in Giannis’s hands, so look for them to initiate activity in the paint and move outwards.
Defend without fouling
This almost ruined Denver late in that game against the Pelicans. They awarded New Orleans 33 free throws and they only missed three of those attempts. Giannis will be a bowling ball on his way to the paint, so look for Denver to take some charges tonight. If they allow Giannis to get too deep in the paint, he has the strength to finish through anybody and also receives frequent free throw attempts. The Nuggets should attack the free throw line as well, but if they get in another back and forth with Milwaukee, it slows the game down and prevents some from furthering their rhythm.
Keep the threes flowing
Through the last 15 games, the Nuggets have been a top ten three-point shooting team in terms of percentage at 35.5%. During that same period, the Bucks are shooting 36% which is good for 8th in the league. The Bucks have plenty of players who can fill it up from the perimeter. They have several guys shooting over 38% from beyond the arc. The only Nuggets to eclipse that mark are Markus Howard, Davon Reed, Zeke Nnaji, Vlatko Cancar, and none of those players have over 2.7 attempts per game. With that being said, over the last five games, Austin Rivers and Nikola Jokic have found their stride from distance. Rivers is shooting 60% from three in his last four games, while Jokic has 42% in his last five. The Nuggets might not need to sink 20+ threes, but the open, timely shots are critical to hit in a close, competitive matchup we perceive this to be.