Nuggets vs. Bucks NBA Odds & Picks: Ride Streaking Milwaukee in Superstar Matchup
Stacy Revere/Getty Images. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo.
- Two teams with European superstars meet up on Tuesday night when the Bucks host the Nuggets.
- Both Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo have been fantastic this season, although they've been carrying their teams too much at times.
- Brandon Anderson breaks down which side he's backing in this matchup.
Nuggets vs. Bucks Odds
|Moneyline||+210 / -265|
|Time||9 p.m. ET|
|TV||NBA League Pass|
|Odds as of Monday night and via PointsBet.|
Tuesday night brings us a little pre-All-Star-Break treat when we get a look at perhaps the two best players in the league this season.
Oh, LeBron James and Joel Embiid are certainly getting more hype, but Nikola Jokic and Giannis Antetokounmpo might well be the two best players in the league so far this year.
Per Basketball Reference, the two rank first and second in Win Shares, first and third in Box Plus-Minus (BPM) and first and second in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP). Embiid and James lead the MVP voting odds, but the advanced metrics think no two players have been better this season than the pair matching up tonight in Milwaukee.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about either player’s team. As impressive as Giannis and Jokic have been, the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets feel like they’ve underachieved this season, especially compared to expectations coming into the year.
So which superstar will lead his team to victory Tuesday night?
Both of these teams are a bit better than their records would indicate. Denver sits at 18-15 but has an expected record closer to 21-12.
The Nuggets have typically been one of the best teams in close games in recent seasons, but their luck has gone the other way this year. Denver has also seen a long list of injury and protocol absences, and they’re still shorthanded.
The Nuggets won’t have to travel far since they will still be on the second night of a back-to-back after a Monday night game in Chicago. On top of that, it looks like the Nuggets will still likely be without Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and JaMychal Green as they have been for a while now. That’s two starters and a key rotation member, and Denver is already getting really inconsistent play from Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., while Will Barton has been disappointing after a strong campaign.
Jokic has been awesome. He leads the NBA in just about any advanced metric you can drum up. But he’s had to be awesome, because he just hasn’t had that much help. Even with all the absences and inconsistencies, Denver entered Monday top-five in Offensive Efficiency, and Jokic gets a lion’s share of the credit for that. Denver has an outstanding team shot profile, meaning they’re getting good, high-quality shots, and Jokic is the reason for that. Denver has shot the ball well from both inside and beyond the arc, and they score well on second-chance buckets too with good offensive rebounding numbers.
The Nuggets’ defense still lags far behind, and there’s one number that really leaps out as a problem in this matchup.
The Nuggets entered Monday ranked second to last in the entire NBA in 2-point percentage at 55% allowed. For all the good things Jokic does on offense, he’s still not a great or maybe even good defender and Denver is missing guys like Millsap and Green who help do the little things on defense. The Nuggets have struggled to slow down opponents who score efficiently inside the arc, and they’re not particularly great at anything on defense.
The Nuggets play at a super slow pace, but they’re still effectively in a track meet each night, simply trying to outrun and outscore the other team because of subpar defense.
The Bucks certainly had an interesting February. Milwaukee started the month with a five-game winning streak, then lost five straight before rebounding to win five more games to end the month. The Bucks are the first team in NBA history to go W5-L5-W5 in one month like that.
Milwaukee sits at 21-13 overall and like the Nuggets, its record probably sells it a bit short. The Bucks have been quite good outside of that weird five-game blip, which came mostly against terrific teams and without point guard Jrue Holiday.
Holiday is back now, and Milwaukee is coming off its finest win of the season on Sunday afternoon against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Bucks did just about everything you can hope for in a regular season win in that one. They handled LA’s switches on one end and showed versatility defensively on the other, and the Bucks outplayed the Clippers down the stretch for the win.
All of that was even without much contribution from Holiday, who came off the bench in his return and had just two points in 18 minutes, making a limited impact. It will be interesting to see how Milwaukee plays Holiday this week with the All-Star break looming. Most teams this season have played a starter around that 18-to-20 minute mark coming off an injury or protocol absence, then ramped them up to fairly normal minutes in the following game. Will Milwaukee also do that here, or will the Bucks limit Holiday for these next two games and then give him the extra week off to get whole?
The answer to that question could have a big outcome on this one. The Bucks showed just how valuable Holiday was to this team by how much they struggled without him. Holiday contributes much more than the box score shows with his defense and leadership. And with Holiday missing and Khris Middleton struggling lately, the Bucks have looked a lot like the Nuggets — like one superstar surrounded by a supporting cast that isn’t getting the job done.
Holiday’s return fixes the whole hierarchy. He’s the point of attack defensively, and that will be huge in a game against Murray. The Bucks are still very vulnerable from beyond the arc, and we know how Murray can light up the nets when his shot starts falling from deep.
I expect the Bucks to mirror Holiday’s minutes with Murray to help limit his impact and reduce Denver yet again to the Jokic show. Holiday’s return also puts Middleton in a more comfortable role offensively, and it gives this team a bit more of a punch off the bench, enough to at least offset Denver’s equally weakened bench.
Remember how the Nuggets especially struggle defending the paint? Milwaukee ranks second in the NBA on 2-pointers hitting 55%, the same percentage Denver allows. A lot of that is from Giannis of course, who’s as efficient and deadly as anyone on the planet at getting to the rim and scoring there. No player in the NBA has been as hot as Antetokounmpo lately.
Over his last 10 games, Giannis is averaging 33.5 points, 13.4 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. He’s getting to the line 12.0 times per game over that stretch and actually hitting his free throws again at a 75% clip. In short, the reigning back-to-back MVP is back to top form, and he’s the one superstar in the league who can match Jokic right now.
One of Denver’s biggest problems this season, both so far and looming out ahead, was the loss of Jerami Grant as its top wing defender. We saw how valuable Grant was against the Lakers last year in the playoffs, and I think we’ll see how much they miss him in a matchup like this.
I expect Antetokounmpo to have another huge line, and if he can at least match Jokic’s production, the Bucks should have the edge from there with Holiday, Middleton and Brook Lopez better than what this tired, depleted Denver roster can offer.
I don’t like this spot at all for Denver. The Nuggets don’t have an answer to a scorching-hot Antetokounmpo, and they’re a tired team that just needs to stagger into the break and catch their breath.
Murray is the X-factor here. If he looks hot early, and especially if Holiday appears to be limited again too, I’ll probably look to hedge off the Bucks. But until then, I like this matchup and spot for Milwaukee and will play them at -6.5 to take care of business and ride the defending MVP.
Pick: Bucks -6.5 (play to 7.5)