The Denver Nuggets are still fighting for a playoff spot despite their 3-4 road trip. After a huge win against the Oklahoma City Thunder in Oklahoma City, the Nuggets made reaching the playoffs a real possibility once again. In fact, they only have to do one thing: win. If Denver were to run the table on the season, they would be almost guaranteed a playoff spot. First up in that tall order? The Milwaukee Bucks and MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo. If the Nuggets want to pull off the underdog story, they’ll have to take on playoff caliber teams like the Bucks from here on out.

The Bucks obviously go as Giannis goes, he is their star player and one of the best players in the league, but they also have other weapons that make them dangerous. Milwaukee traded for Eric Bledsoe, a player the Nuggets were rumored to have interest in, during the middle of the season and while he hasn’t been scoring as much as he was in Phoenix, he has been scoring efficiently and is coming off a 39 point outing against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Bucks also have a dangerous wing in Khris Middleton who is having his best season of the year and recently got back former 2nd overall pick Jabari Parker. Even Brandon Jennings is back for the playoff ride. Indeed, the Nuggets have no small task in front of them.

The Basics

Who: Milwaukee Bucks (41-35) at Denver Nuggets (41-35)

When: 6:00 PM MDT

Where: The Can, Denver CO

How to watch/listen: Altitude TV and KKSE Altitude Radio AM950

Rival Blog: Brew Hoop

Position Nuggets Bucks Advantage
PG Jamal Murray Eric Bledsoe Bucks
SG Will Barton Tony Snell Nuggets
SF Wilson Chandler Khris Middleton Bucks
PF Paul Millsap Giannis Antetokounmpo Bucks
C Nikola Jokic Thon Maker Nuggets
Bench Trey Lyles, Mason Plumlee,
Devin Harris, Torrey Craig
Jason Terry, Jabari Parker, Brandon Jennings, Shabazz Muhammad, John Henson Even

Injured players: Wilson Chandler – questionable (nose), Gary Harris – out (knee), Tyler Lydon – out (knee), Thon Maker – questionable (groin), John Henson – questionable (finger), Malcolm Brogdon – out (quad), Matthew Dellevadova – out (ankle)

Key Matchup: Stars vs injured players/backups

Thon Maker is nursing a groin injury and John Henson was a late scratch in the Bucks last game with a finger sprain, both are questionable for tonight’s contest. Jokic has pretty much owned Maker and the Bucks in general so if he’s also still nursing a groin it could be a huge game for the Joker. If Henson goes it might be a better idea to put him against Nikola since Maker has struggled so mightily in this matchup. The Bucks also have Tyler Zeller available if neither guy can go. On the other side, Wilson Chandler left the Nuggets last game with a nose contusion and is questionable as well. Chandler is coach Malone’s best option for defending Antetokounmpo so if he can not go the Nuggets will be in a big bind. Torrey Craig gives up a lot in terms of height trying to defend the Greek Freak so if Chandler is out it may be a game where Richard Jefferson sees a lot of minutes.

Key thing to watch for: defending the perimeter

The Bucks have a plethora of offensive weapons that can destroy at team at the three point line. Middleton and Tony Snell both shoot right around the 40% mark from three point line and Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe are a pair of elite dribble penetration players who finish extremely well. Parker gives Milwaukee a stretch four off the bench and at 40 years of age, Jason Terry is still knocking down shots from the corner and hitting threes at a 35% clip. The Nuggets have always struggled to defend the perimeter so the Bucks are an especially difficult matchup on that front. Luckily they have no one to stop Jokic so this may be a case where if Denver’s defense let’s them down they can still win a game 138-132.

Opening thought: this is NOT a must win

IF the Nuggets could run the table down the stretch it’s possible they creep up as high as even the 4 seed. Given the quality of opponents they face down the stretch the chances of them going undefeated are very slim. It wouldn’t be shocking at all if the Nuggets lose a game (or more) and if they are going to drop one, doing it either tonight or on Tuesday against the Indiana Pacers would be the time. Eastern Conference opponents have no bearing on tie breakers or Denver’s chances to get in other than the win/loss column so losing one of these two games doesn’t kill them. Obviously the best way to go is to win them all, but the first game back home after a long road trip is often one of the hardest to win so if they drop the game tonight it won’t be the end of the world or their playoff dreams.