When the Denver Nuggets visited Milwaukee to face the Bucks two months ago, they did so without most of their starters available.
On Jan. 25, Denver had played at New Orleans less than 24 hours before and chose to rest Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic, denying an MVP matchup with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Nuggets were blown out that night, but situations will be reversed when the teams meet in Denver on Saturday night.
Milwaukee (53-20) has the best record in the NBA and is playing the second game of a back-to-back set. The Bucks routed the Jazz 144-116 in Utah on Friday night, but the lopsided score allowed their top players to sit out the final quarter.
They now play a team that has been idle since Wednesday night.
Denver (49-24) has played just once since Sunday, a 118-104 win at Washington on Wednesday night, and is rested and ready to go.
While many will focus on the Jokic-Antetokounmpo matchup in Saturday night’s game, the Nuggets are concentrating on securing the top seed in the Western Conference. They lead the Memphis Grizzlies by three games with nine to go. They will five of those games at home, where they are 30-6.
Jokic has won the past two MVP awards, which came on the heels of Antetokounmpo winning the honor in 2019 and 2020, and is among the favorites to capture the trophy again. He is nearly averaging a triple-double — 24.8 points, 11.9 rebounds and 9.9 assists — but has competition from Antetokounmpo (31.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 5.6 assists) and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid (33.4, 10.2, 4.2).
Jokic has said he isn’t concerned about the MVP.
“I don’t think about it anymor. It’s the past,” said Jokic, who has an NBA-best 28 triple-doubles this season.
Good performances against the Bucks and the 76ers, who are in town Monday night, will go a long way in helping Denver capture the conference’s No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history.
Milwaukee, meanwhile, has surged to the top of the Eastern Conference with an impressive stretch. The Bucks are 24-3 since Jan. 21, which included a 10-0 mark in February.
They will be tested in the next week with four games in seven days, which includes a home showdown against the Boston Celtics on Thursday night.
Getting the top seed would avoid playing a Game 7 on the road, which is where Milwaukee’s 2021-22 season ended — at Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“We should take the spot,” Antetokounmpo said. “It always feels good to play Game 7 at home. I think I’ve never played a Game 7 in my career at home. I’ve played three Game 7, all three on the road if I’m not mistaken, so I think just being able to not just have the No. 1 seed in the East but the best record in the NBA and have that home-court advantage against everybody, that’s a good feeling.”
Bucks forward Khris Middleton was held out of Friday’s game for management of a right knee injury but should be available Saturday night.