The Milwaukee Bucks will be short-handed but trying to snap their first two-game losing streak of the season when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Monday night. Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is sidelined with a knee injury suffered in a Friday night loss to the Lakers, leaving Milwaukee without its leader in scoring, rebounding and assists.
Even with Antetokounmpo, the Bucks had lost two of three games, then dropped a Sunday night game to Phoenix without him. Still, they have a comfortable 7.5-game lead on Toronto for the top of the Eastern Conference standings, though the Lakers have pulled to within three games for the top record in the NBA thanks to the Bucks’ recent slump.
Meanwhile, Denver is trying to get things right and not lose its spot among the top four teams in the Western Conference. Heading into this one, the Nuggets have gone 5-5 over their last 10 games, including a loss to Cleveland on Saturday. Denver leads Utah by a game for the third spot in the West, and fifth-place Oklahoma City is just 2.5 games back, so picking up some wins is crucial for the Nuggets.
Denver is a 5.5-point favorite at home in this one, with the over/under set at 222.
Next All-Star Up
With Antetokounmpo sidelined, the Bucks’ other All-Star, Khris Middleton, becomes the lead dog of the offense. He won’t be the focal point like Antetokounmpo is simply because Milwaukee has so many weapons, but Middleton (21.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists) is certainly capable of carrying an offense, as shown by his 39 points in the Bucks’ loss to Phoenix on Sunday.
The biggest loss for the Bucks with Antetokounmpo sidelined appears to be on the defensive end, as they allowed Phoenix to score 140. Brook Lopez leads the team with 2.4 blocks per game, but he’s not a disruptive force like Antetokounmpo, who can swoop from out of nowhere to make a block, steal or deflection. The Bucks must shore up the defensive end if they’re going to stay in the game against the Nuggets.
Guard Eric Bledsoe is another player who will need to step up on both ends of the floor, hopefully giving more than his current averages of 15.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists. One player who has stepped forward of late is guard Donte DiVincenzo, who is averaging 17.6 points over the last three games.
Not Getting It Done
Denver is mostly healthy, but the Nuggets are struggling to put away teams they should be beating easily. Over the last three games, Denver has lost to Golden State, won by two over Charlotte, and lost to Cleveland, three teams that have a combined 56 wins compared to the Nuggets’ 42.
With Antetokounmpo out, Nikola Jokic should find things a little easier offensively. The All-Star forward leads Denver in scoring (20.5 points), rebounding (10.2) and assists (6.8) and will be a key to any success the Nuggets have going forward. Guard Jamal Murray is also a solid scorer, averaging 18.6 points, but Denver is still trying to find the chemistry from last season.
The fact that only three players — Jokic, Jerami Grant and Monte Morris — have played as many as 57 of the team’s 63 games this season shows how much the rotation has been affected by injuries. Forward Paul Millsap can be a force on the block when healthy, but he’s played in just 42 games, averaging 11.8 points and 5.8 rebounds.
The Nuggets won the first meeting between these teams this season, racking up 127 points in a victory in Milwaukee with Antetokounmpo on the court. Look for Denver to draw some inspiration from that win — and some confidence with Antetokounmpo out — and put together a big win. I’m taking Denver -5.5 to win this one easily.