Coming into the Denver Nuggets matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks, it seemed like the Nuggets had no chance of winning.
The Bucks are factually the most dominant team in the NBA and they are lead by the league’s most feared player in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Denver was banged up and exhausted, but despite everything stacked against them, Denver won 127-115.
The Nuggets won as a team despite their injuries and lack of rest and with that, here is the good, bad and ugly from the Nuggets win over the Bucks.
Good – Every Nuggets player had a hand in the win
There were so many reasons for the Nuggets to lose against the Bucks (which will be outlined later in this story) but the most impressive aspect of the Nuggets win is how every single player who logged playing time helped the Nuggets come away with their most impressive win of the year.
Monte Morris had multiple clutch buckets and played strong defense on his way to 14 points on 5-9 shooting.
Will Barton III was the Nuggets best player all night long as he set the tone for his team. He scored regularly and from everywhere on the floor, rebounded relentlessly, created open shots for his teammates, and also was productive on defense. He ended up with a team-high 24 points to go with seven rebounds and eight assists.
Torrey Craig started at small forward and was an immediate shot of adrenaline for a Nuggets team that started out slow. He did an admirable job defending Antetokounmpo and finished with 11 points, five rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes of action.
Jerami Grant was a defensive monster as he collected seven blocks in 32 minutes. He did not shoot well, but still added 10 points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals to his seven-block night as he continued to show that he can be relied upon to slow elite wings when Denver needs him to.
As usual, Nikola Jokic was dropping dimes to his teammates with regularity, but Jokic was far from perfect despite flirting with a triple-double. He finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but shot just 7-17 from the field and turned the ball over three times. He was far from the problem, but Jokic was not at his absolute best against the Bucks.
Off the bench, the Nuggets played four players and all four gave Denver great minutes. Juancho Hernangomez finally saw his shot fall in the first half as he added 10 quick points to the Nuggets total. Hernangomez has been struggling mightily which makes his 12 points and five rebounds more important than the numbers immediately suggest. Hopefully this is the start of a more productive version of Hernangomez.
Michael Porter Jr. also had himself a very strong game before his night got cut short due to an ankle issue that is not believed to be serious. Porter logged another double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds to go with two blocks and one steal in 25 minutes of action.
Malik Beasley entered the game and set the nets on fire with his shooting. He hit 5-10 3-pointers on his way to 16 points, four rebounds, and two steals in 27 minutes.
Lastly, but most certainly not least, PJ Dozier gave the Nuggets some extremely strong minutes once again. Dozier finished with 10 points, three rebounds, four assists, and two steals and was a steady presence for the Nuggets all night long.
By the time the final buzzer sounded, all nine players who logged minutes for the Nuggets managed to score in double digits. Denver hit 22-46 3-pointers as well and also had 29 assists against just 12 turnovers.
This was a complete team win by Denver.
Bad – Denver still playing without four of their most important players
As it has been for most of the month of January, the Nuggets continue to deal with injuries and they were without three of their starters in Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap as well as backup center Mason Plumlee for their battle with the Bucks.
Considering the Nuggets were playing with very little rest (more on that later), their injuries just made things even tougher and it seems there is no let-up in sight.
Murray is still working through a left ankle sprain that has sidelined him for the last nine games including Denver’s matchup with Milwaukee. Mason Plumlee is expected to continue to miss games as well with a right cuboid injury in his foot and his original timeline of two-to-four weeks puts his return sometime after the All-Star break. Lastly is Millsap’s knee issue which is being described as a left knee contusion/sprain. It seems like Millsap may be able to play if Denver desperately needed him to play, but his return is still entirely in doubt. Odds are strong that none of those three will return before the All-Star break.
Additionally, Gary Harris missed his second-straight game due to personal reasons which did not help matters. Also, Michael Porter Jr. came down on his ankle awkwardly and was taken back to the locker room for further testing. Porter did not return to the game, but Malone said after the game via the Altitude TV broadcast that Porter was in high spirits and his issue seems to not be to serious.
Ugly – Nuggets playing through exhaustion
While playing on the second night of a back-to-back is near easy, this current back-to-back for the Nuggets is particularly hellacious.
The night before taking on the Bucks, Denver battled and defeated the Utah Jazz on national TV in a game that was not set to tip off until 8:30pm MDT. Then, at some time around midnight, after a delay, the Nuggets boarded a plane to fly to Milwaukee. On the flight, the Nuggets lost an hour due to time change. Once they finally arrived at their hotel, it was nearly 5am in Milwaukee and Denver had just over 14 hours before taking on the best team in the National Basketball Association who are led by the best player in world in Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Somehow, despite the brutal nature of their schedule, the Nuggets went into Milwaukee and fearlessly attacked the Bucks for all four quarters until they came out with the most impressive win since Malone was hired as head coach of the Nuggets.
The best way to sum up the Nuggets win was that it felt like the Nuggets from the 2018-19 season. They played as if their lives hung in the balance despite being so depleted by injuries and being so exhausted. They played with passion, relentlessness and a fire that carried them through the ups-and-downs of the game.
It is still incredible that the Nuggets were able to secure this win. This was the most obvious scheduled-loss conceivable, but the Nuggets did not fold and managed to beat the league’s best despite their less than ideal circumstances.