Bucks vs. Nuggets Odds
|9 p.m. ET
It’s a potential finals matchup between the best in the East and the best in the West in Denver. The Milwaukee Bucks look to continue their second-half surge while the Denver Nuggets, after a recent nosedive, look to continue to stabilize as they get ready for the playoffs.
It’s Giannis Antetokounmpo (hopefully) vs. Nikola Jokic. Let’s bet Bucks vs. Nuggets!
The Bucks are on the second night of a back-to-back so there’s no injury report available as of yet. Khris Middleton sat out the Bucks’ win Friday night in Utah, so you would assume he’s good to go for this one. The Bucks’ starters also all played less than 25 minutes in the blowout win vs. the Jazz.
The matchup for the Bucks is interesting. Since Jokic and Giannis began their ascent to MVP-level play (2018-19, Jokic not really until 2020), the Bucks are 5-4 straight up and 4-5 ATS against Denver, including their most recent win when the Nuggets rested starters because they were on the second night of a back to back.
The Bucks’ defense is elite in two key areas: rim protection and corner 3-pointers. Last season, the Bucks focused so much on rim protection that they would give up a volume of 3s, often high-percentage corner 3s. They balanced that this season with better recovery habits and it’s resulted in elite performance.
The Bucks are fifth in shots the rim allowed per game and seventh in percentage allowed at the rim. They are simultaneously first in opponent corner 3-point attempts allowed per game and third in corner 3-point percentage allowed per game. They are second in opponent free throw rate.
So they don’t give you layups, dunks, corner 3s, or free throws. All the high-percentage shots you seek as an offense, they deny.
The Nuggets, on the other hand, generate the seventh-most shots per game at the rim, at the second-best percentage. The Nuggets also shoot the third-best percentage on corner 3s. Denver isn’t good at drawing fouls. So this really kind of is a case of an unstoppable force meeting an unmovable object.
Offensively, it’s the inverse, where the Bucks’ offense is their weakness, and the Nuggets’ defense is theirs. However, since Khris Middleton came back, the Bucks have become an absolute unit offensively. They are fifth in overall offensive efficiency in that span and fourth in 3-point percentage.
Milwaukee will look to pressure the Nuggets at the point of attack with penetration through Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday and then bomb from deep. The Nuggets will look to pressure the Bucks with action off Nikola Jokic, force doubles, and then kick to shooters. Little bit of a Spider-Man meme, here.
One thing to watch will be how the Bucks match up with Jokic. A popular scheme against Denver has been to play a smaller power forward as the primary defender against Jokic and have the superior center rim protector play the backline. In this case, I use “smaller” in quotes because that would be Giannis.
Lopez is one of the best rim protectors, maybe the best, in the league. He can hang with Jokic, but only to a certain degree. There just isn’t a matchup Jokic hasn’t proven he can defeat. So it’ll be key to see if the Bucks bring help or not, or live with Jokic in a scoring effort while they focus on keeping the Nuggets’ shooters in check. This is a rare game in which a team can effectively win “the math game” vs. Denver.
Offensively, the Bucks’ transition attack hasn’t been that great this year. They also don’t generate many turnovers; the Bucks are dead last in points off turnovers. That’s the easiest way to attack Denver: turn their pass-heavy offense over and generate points in transition.
Denver gives up the 12th-most corner 3s, often by overloading to the strong side in pick-and-roll action, so the Bucks should have an advantage there.
Denver is fully healthy going into this one, a rarity late in the season.
One way the Nuggets have had success through the years in beating the Bucks is that the ball always moves faster than the man. So while the Bucks have a cadre of high-level on-ball defenders, the Nuggets are able to beat it with smart, savvy plays by Jokic. Jokic has had some absolutely monster games vs. this elite defense.
A big concern for Denver, as it is every game, is the bench. The Bucks stagger Giannis Antetokounmpo with the second unit in the start of the 2nd and 4th quarters. He exits mid-to-late first/third, returns late first/third, plays through the beginning of the 2nd/4th, exits again for a break, and then finishes the half.
This is bad for Denver. Jokic plays until roughly the 2-minute mark of the 1st and plays the entire third, then sits until roughly the 7-or-8-minute mark of the 2nd and 4th. In that span, the Nuggets bleed. Facing Antetokounmpo, that puts even more pressure on them.
Denver has moved to a more defensive-minded rotation lately, adding Zeke Nnaji and first-round pick Christian Braun. But that unit also regularly features Jamal Murray and Bruce Brown. Expect Giannis to target some switches to get smaller defenders on him and for him to attack Nnaji and veteran Jeff Green head-on.
Denver’s offense is good enough to hang here vs. a team on the second night of a back to back. The question will be if their defense can do its part. Denver was a bottom-five defense for the first two months of the season, a top-five defense for three months of the season, and a bottom-five defense for the past three weeks. Which ones shows up in this one?
I want to start by saying to wait for the injury report from the Bucks. It looks like they’re gearing up to play this game with starters, but it’s a late-season back-to-back. You want to make sure you know the lay of the land before putting your money in, here.
For the purposes of the picks, this is assuming the Bucks starters play. If they don’t, I think the whole spot is a stay-away. It’s a letdown spot for a Nuggets team who has been in a letdown mode since beating the Grizzlies two weeks ago, and the whole playstyle of both teams change then. But for now, here’s if the Bucks give it the ol’ college try.
Remember how I said the Nuggets’ offense should be able to compete here and how good the Bucks’ offense has been lately? Yeah, I’m still taking an under. There are two factors here that aren’t about the matchup itself: Pace and situation.
Denver plays at the 12th-slowest Pace in terms of offensive possession length (via DunksAndThrees.com). The Bucks are 17th, faster, but much of that is in transition, where their efficiency is surprisingly poor.
I mentioned the Bucks don’t turn the opponent over; if you don’t turn the Nuggets over, they will score but do so at a leisurely pace, which allows them to get back and set up their half-court defense — it ranks 19th, not good but not that bad, either.
Then there’s the spot. The under in Bucks games on the second night of a back-to-back this season is 7-3 (70%). The under in Nuggets games where the opponent is on a back-to-back is 6-5. The under in Nuggets home games is 19-16 (54.3%). It’s been a profitable spot this season.
So, let’s take the under 236.5, and play some props.
Pat Connaughton’s 3-pointers is a line I would look for whether the starters play or not (it will likely post closer to tip-off). The Nuggets have trouble with weak side rotation to the corners, and Connaughton leads the Bucks in corner 3-point attempts.
Aaron Gordon under 14.5 points: Gordon, if the starters play, is going against the best rim protection in the league. He’s shooting 36% from this year and could hit two to get this over. But he’s more likely to have a rough night, and he’s been banged up with a rib injury for several months.
Jeff Green over 7.5 points: This is basically an opportunity and trend play. Green has hit at least one three in each of the last three games, and he will likely play a lot here against that Giannis second-unit stagger. He might wind up in foul trouble, but might get over this anyway.
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