The defending champion Milwaukee Bucks will look to keep up their recent hot streak when they visit the Denver Nuggets on Friday night at Ball Arena. After a slow start, Milwaukee has improved to 11-8 on the season and is coming off an easy 114-93 win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday as a 15-point home favorite. Denver was hammered 119-100 by the Portland Trail Blazers on Tuesday as a 10-point road underdog, falling back to .500 at 9-9 on the season.
These teams split a pair of games last season, with each winning in blowout fashion on the road. Denver has a big 62-37 lead over Milwaukee in the all-time season.
Bucks dominate Detroit for fifth straight winIt hasn't been smooth sailing for the defending champions thus far, but the Bucks are starting to look more like themselves over the past two weeks and had no trouble brushing aside Detroit on Wednesday. Milwaukee was in control from the opening tip, outscoring Detroit exactly 32-26 in each of the first two quarters, and the Pistons never threatened a rally with the offense managing just 19 points in the fourth.
It's the Holiday season.— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 25, 2021
22 PTS | 8 REB | 6 AST pic.twitter.com/QD9VddXL9i
Giannis Antetokounmpo stuffed the stat sheet with 33 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks, while Bobby Portis had a double-double at 28 points and 10 rebounds. The Bucks defense dismantled Detroit, with the Pistons shooting just 35.8% from the field including 11/45 from three-point range.
“I think the starters are coming out with a focus,” coach Mike Budenholzer said to the Associated Press. “It doesn’t guarantee anything, but I just like the way they’ve been. When [Giannis] puts in that maximum effort, that inner competitive drive, and he goes and does things that I just think are very unique to him."
Milwaukee is 8-11 against the spread to start the season, although it has covered in two straight games after failing to do so in five straight contests before that. Overs are just 5-14 for the Bucks, with five of their last six games going under the betting total.
The Bucks offense has been inconsistent so far this season, averaging 108.9 points per game on shooting splits of 51.1% from two and 36.2% from three. Milwaukee's defense also has fairly middling numbers on the season, with opponents putting up 106.4 points per game while shooting 51.8% from two and 31.7% from beyond the arc.
As usual, Antetokounmpo looks to be a factor in the MVP race, as he has racked up 27.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.9 blocks per game on 51% shooting from the floor. Jrue Holiday adds 14.1 points, 5.6 assists and 1.5 steals per contest, while Khris Middleton has piled up 17.1 points per game.
Shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo remains sidelined indefinitely as he recovers from offseason foot surgery. Power forward Semi Ojeleye is questionable with a sore calf.
Shorthanded Nuggets lose fifth straightWith some key players including reigning MVP Nikola Jokic out of the lineup, the Nuggets have really been struggling to even compete in games lately, and were handled thoroughly by the Blazers on Tuesday. The Nuggets took a brief 49-48 lead in the middle of the second quarter, only for Portland to seize control with an 18-3 run heading into the half, and the injury-riddled Denver offense couldn't do enough to catch up.
Still flying high in year 14 pic.twitter.com/YCz0gAOHS5— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) November 24, 2021
Veteran Jeff Green led the Nuggets with 24 points and three blocks while Will Barton piled up 11 points, eight rebounds and seven assists. The Nuggets shot the ball well but lost the turnover battle 17-9, and Portland was hot from the field at 51.1% with 15 made three-pointers.
"Losing (stinks), it should hurt, you should be angry, you should be frustrated, you should be embarrassed, whatever it is,” head cocach Michael Malone said to the Denver Post. “We can’t wait for Jamal (Murray), Michael (Porter Jr.) and Nikola (Jokic) to come back. We have to fix it. We can only do that by staying together and having a positive mindset.”
Denver is just 7-11 against the spread, and has failed to cover in all five games during this current losing streak. Overs are also 7-11 for the Nuggets, although five of their last six games have gone over the betting total.
It has not been a good season for the Denver offense, which is 25th in scoring at an average of 102.4 points per game while shooting 54.8% from two and 32.3% from three. Denver's defense has made up for it, ranking third in scoring at 102.6 points per game allowed on opposing shooting splits of 54% from two and 32.8% from beyond the arc.
Jokic has been terrific when healthy, piling up an average of 26.4 points, 13.6 assists and 6.4 assists per game on 59.3% shooting from the floor. Barton is having a nice season with 16.1 points and 4.3 assists per game, while Aaron Gordon adds 13.3 points and 6.0 rebounds per night.
It's unclear when Jokic will return from a wrist injury, and he is officially questionable for this game. The Nuggets are also missing fellow star Jamal Murray as he recovers from a torn ACL suffered late last season, while key forward Michael Porter Jr. is out indefinitely with a back problem. Things got even worse against Portland, as forward P.J. Dozier suffered a torn ACL. Rookie guard Bones Hyland is doubtful with an ankle injury, while forward Vlatko Cancar is out with a hip problem.
Best Bets for this Game
Full-Game Side Bet
This is a rough matchup for even the healthy Nuggets as the defending champions are starting to find their stride, and Denver is impossible to take in this spot given the injury concerns. Even if Jokic comes back on Friday, the Nuggets depth has been absolutely decimated, and keeping up with a mostly healthy Bucks team that is playing well in every facet will be tough.
Denver was already starting to show some cracks offensively when healthy, ranking 20th in rating overall this season, and losing so much star power from the lineup in Jokic, Murray and Porter Jr. is too much for any roster to overcome. The Nuggets offense takes a ton of threes but has not shot well from the perimeter no matter who is in the lineup, and that's bad news in this matchup as the Bucks are third in the NBA in opposing three-point shooting percentage.
Milwaukee's offense is starting to click on the other side, and with Denver missing some frontcourt players, matching up with both Antetokounmpo and Portis looks like a tough challenge here. Trust the Bucks to be able to handle a small spread on the road against a Nuggets squad that is just too beat up.
Full-Game Total Pick
While the Bucks are a little better of a scoring offense due to a quick pace, they are actually more efficient on the defensive side at eighth in rating and seventh in opponent's effective field goal percentage. The good news for under backers here is that Denver will even out the pace a bit, as only one team in the NBA averages fewer possessions per game.
Malone has done a great job revamping a defensive scheme that struggled last year, with Denver doing a particularly good job of rebounding and keeping opponents off the free throw line. Buckets won't be easy to come by for the Nuggets, and Milwaukee won't quite score enough to make up for it.