The Denver Nuggets finally broke into the win column at home in their third attempt of the season and now look to win back-to-back games at the Pepsi Center as they face The Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night. The Bucks are coming off a bad home loss Tuesday night, getting blown out by the visiting Celtics 99-83. The Bucks are a hard team to figure out this year – they opened the season 0-3 before ripping off a 4-game winning streak prior to the Celtics loss. Their big three of Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greg Monroe are all contributing as expected but the defense has been MIA and working Jabari Parker back in after his long injury layoff is proving to be a bit challenging.

The Nuggets are similarly hard to pin down, having lost half their rotation players to injury so far this season for at least a game or two. That trend continues as Joffrey Lauvergne, Wilson Chandler and Jusuf Nurkic are all guaranteed to miss this game. That means reserves are logging heavy minutes in unfamiliar roles and make any rhythm an improvisation at best. The bench will have to be contributors again if the Nuggets are to take this one, but Emmanuel Mudiay made a statement in the Portland game that he’s willing to put the game on his shoulders if necessary to grab the victory. That bodes well for the immediate short-handed future as well as Denver’s long-term prognosis. They go as Mudiay goes in these early-season games, so he’ll need another aggressive game to put the Nuggets in position to win.

The Basics:

Who: The Denver Nuggets (3-4) vs. The Milwaukee Bucks (4-4)
When: 7
:00 PM MST
Pepsi Center, Denver CO

Where to Watch:
Altitude TV
Rival Blog:
Brew Hoop

Milwaukee Bucks
Denver Nuggets Advantage
PG Tyler Ennis Emmanuel Mudiay Nuggets
SG Khris Middleton Gary Harris Bucks
SF Giannis Antetokounmpo Danilo Gallinari Even
PF Jabari Parker Kenneth Faried Nuggets
C Greg Monroe J.J. Hickson Bucks
Bench John Henson, Damien Inglis, Chris Copeland, Miles Plumlee, Johnny O’Bryant III, Greivis Vasquez, Jerryd Bayless, Rashad Vaughn Darrell Arthur, Will Barton, Nikola Jokic, Randy Foye, J.J. Hickson, Mike Miller, Kostas Papanikolaou


Injured players: Wilson Chandler, hip (out), Jusuf Nurkic, knee (out), Joffrey Lauvergne, back (out), Jameer Nelson, back (questionable)

Three things to watch:

Boardwalk Empire. The Nuggets need all the boards, and the Bucks are willing to provide them. Milwaukee is worst in the league in rebounds per game while the Nuggets are 13th, 10th in offense rebounding percentage. With the questionable shooting of both teams, the Nuggets will need a strong showing on the boards in order to prevent second-chance points from the longer Bucks as well as to get the put-backs necessary to surge ahead. Faried especially tends to struggle against leaner, taller foes and will have to put out the effort he did against Portland. Hickson will have to show up against his old team as well and out-duel Greg Monroe, not an easy task with Joffrey Lauvergne slated to miss the game with that lingering back issue.

Key matchup: The Rooster vs. the Greek Freak. Gallo ranks as the #8 small forward per ESPN in their just-released rankings. Giannis comes in at #5. Gallo will need to get the best of the Greek Freak in this matchup though, because Harris will struggle with Middleton at SG on both ends of the floor, perhaps to the point of Will Barton drawing the lion's share of the minutes. Gallo will have to make up the difference, and after his season-worst outing against the Trailblazers, redemption is at hand for the Italian. Antetokounmpo is a tough matchup and can bother Gallinari in many of the same ways that Mo Harkless and Al-Forouq Aminu did for Portland. Gallo would do well to head inside and draw fouls rather than angrily chucking from the outside as he did in Monday's game, but if he plans to rain 3s he'd better make them. Denver's shooting is not helping their spacing at all and the Nuggets cannot afford to let all Milwaukee's 6'11 guys sag off their defensive assignments and pack the paint. Gallo is a key to opening the lane, or driving it for points.

Pace yourself. The Bucks rank next-to-last in pace this season, while the Nuggets – for all our railing about their walk-it-up-the-court mentality – are in the middle of the pack at 14th. This is a game to dictate pace and not get drawn into another sluggish affair a la Utah. The Bucks are coughing up a ton of points despite their slow pace, which means there are points to be had out there. The Celtics were down 12 early to Milwaukee and came back to win by 16. Jason Kidd's squad has the length to harass Denver's perimeter but in the innuendo matchup of length vs. hustle, hustle has the edge. Because the Bucks got blown out and didn't log a lot of starter minutes they won't be exhausted when they take the court on the second night of a back-to-back, but if the Nuggets play the right way the result will be a victory for the home team just the same.

Prediction: 102-92, Nuggets.

And as an addendum, here are the highlights from Mudiay's game-deciding performance against the Trailblazers. He might not have been mentioned much in the preview, but if Mudiay can assert his will in this game like he did on Monday, the Nuggets will have nothing to worry about. Denver needs him to start chaining these performances together, especially with half the rotation sitting out with injuries. Lead on, young man.

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