Denver Nuggets (George Karl) 5-2
(Likely) Inactives: Johan Petro
Milwaukee Bucks (Scott Skiles) 3-2
(Likely) Inactives: Michael Redd, Joe Alexander and Francisco Elson
Game Time: 7:00
TV: Fox Sports Wisconsin
Brandon Jennings vs. Chauncey Billups
Billups is the ideal result of any combo point guard in the league. He bounced around, people weren’t sure if he was a scorer or a passer, but he figured things out about six years into his career. The idea of Chauncey Billups is probably as intimidating as any match-up for point guards in the league. Billups is the go-to-guy whenever someone is describing a veteran, muscley, big, winning point guard. Upon arriving in Denver last year, Billups changed the culture and held players accountable as defenders and teammates. At 33, Billups is still going strong thanks to a game that relies on strength and smarts rather than speed. Jennings will learn a lot by watching the tape of this one when it’s done.
Charlie Bell vs. Aaron Afflalo
Bell and Afflalo essentially need to be the same player. Both are expected to play good defense and hit open shots. Neither really needs to create much and both have someone more capable of providing offense backing them up. They are simply counted on to be more consistent (if less explosive) than the guys backing them up and keep the ball moving. They both fill their roles fairly well and will likely see decreases in playing time as “Earl” (I’ll explain in the bench section) and Jodie Meeks get more acclimated to this season.
Carlos Delfino vs. Carmelo Anthony
If the season were to end right now, it Anthony would be on the short list of names on the MVP ballot. Anthony ranks third in the league in PER, second in scoring, second in field goals, free throws made and attempted. On top of all of this, Anthony has cut his turnovers by nearly one per game. His offensive rating is an all time high ten points higher than his defensive (118-108). Simply put, Anthony is a beast this year. Carlos Delfino is not, but he did hit two threes in the first quarter against the Knicks, so he’s got that going for him. I’d expect Delfino to see fewer minutes than Luc Richard Mbah a Moute in this one though, as long as LRMAM performs like last year’s LRMAM and not the struggling version that has shown up this year. LRMAM may give the Bucks a better chance of slowing the powerhouse Anthony regardless of which version shows up.
Advantage: Nuggets (I emphasize ADVANTAGE here too)
Hakim Warrick vs. Kenyon Martin
Martin is a stronger more ideal version of Hakim Warrick. Or at least he was. Martin is not the athlete he once was and shoots an ever increasing amount of perimeter jumpers with varying degrees of success. Martin has taken more shots from 16-23 feet this year than he’s taken at the rim. The Martin of six or seven years ago was much better offensively, but Martin hasn’t lost much on defense. Martin can still catch lobs and throw down in traffic, but not with the same regularity he once did after two serious knee surgeries. Warrick’s dunks have been a terrific source of energy time and again for the Bucks and he’s been crashing the boards on offense with great regularity.
Andrew Bogut vs. Nene
Nene lead the league last year in true shooting percentage (takes into account two’s, three’s and free throws) and, remarkably, is doing even better in this category this season. The biggest difference in Bogut and Nene’s offense is that Nene gets to the line more and converts at a higher rate. He’s taken 28 more free throws than Bogut and shoots at a rate that is nearly 20% better. Nene is fourth in the league in free throw attempts per field goal attempts. Nene is also a great athlete able to run the floor and stay with the up-tempo Nuggets. Plus he beat cancer, which is extra cool. This will be a very good test for Bogut after a few strong games in a row.
Luke Ridnour, Jodie Meeks, LRMAM, Ersan Ilyasova and Dan Gadzuric
“Earl” Smith III, Ty Lawson, Anthony Carter, Chris Anderson
Who is “Earl” Smith III? J.R. Smith has emerged from his season opening seven game suspension with a supposed new outlook and a request for a new name. J.R. wants to be referred to as “Earl III” from now on (it’s his given name). I will acquiesce to his request. Call him what you may, he’s part of a very talented Nugget bench. Smith can put up 40 on any given night, Ty Lawson is one of two rookie point guards with a higher PER than Brandon Jennings and Chris Anderson is one of the best rebounders and shot blockers that doesn’t start in the entire league. The Bucks counter with their five deep rotation of defenders and role players.
Prediction: Bucks 103 – Nuggets 107
This one may be a wake-up call for the Bucks after a couple of teams that looked like they would have problems scoring in an empty gym in Minnesota and New York. The Nuggets are third in the league in offensive rating (though sure to drop after a poor performance in a win in Chicago Tuesday) and seventh in pace. This year they’ve had games in which they’ve scored 133, 111 and 122. They get up and down and score with efficiency. It all starts with Anthony. ‘Melo dropped 33 on the Bucks in their meeting last February and got to the free throw line 16 times. That’s been a problem for the Bucks again this year and should be a focus for the Nuggets. The Bucks showed they do have some scoring punch against the Knicks and they’ll need all of it against a not-so-great defensively Nuggets team to keep up.