Shorthanded Bucks drop 3rd straight
Jamal Murray scored 21 points, Paul Millsap had 20 and Jerami Grant added 19 as the Denver Nuggets sent the short-handed Milwaukee Bucks to their third straight loss and fourth in five games, 109-95 on Monday night.
The NBA-leading Bucks (53-12) were without reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has a knee injury, as well as starters Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton and key backup George Hill.
Altogether, the Bucks played without their top six scorers, and despite a valiant effort by their backups led by Kyle Korver (23 points), the team sorely missed that firepower during its fourth consecutive road loss and third in a row on this trip.
The Bucks were swept by Denver in the two-game season series. The Nuggets won 127-115 in Milwaukee on Jan. 31 for their signature win this season.
Nuggets leading scorer Nikola Jokic took just two first-half shots, made one, and continually passed up opportunities to get to the basket and instead distributed the ball. After a poor third quarter, Jokic came on strong down the stretch and finished with 10 points, half his average.
Grant and Millsap picked up the slack with 15 first-half points each as the Nuggets raced out to a 16-point lead before Milwaukee cut it to 62-54 at the break.
In the third quarter, Jokic missed five straight shots -- a hook, a jumper and three 3-pointers -- stretching his drought to 13 consecutive misses from beyond the arc before he sank one in the closing minutes.
The third quarter ended with Mason Plumlee's fast-break layup for a 76-71 Denver lead after Monte Morris blocked Frank Mason III's pull-up 3 from behind.
Seconds earlier, a slam by Murray was waved off with an offensive charge call even though D.J. Wilson left his feet trying to prevent the basket. Denver didn't challenge the call.
Antetokounmpo got hurt in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, and on Sunday afternoon the Bucks said he had a minor sprain of his left knee and would miss at least two games. Milwaukee's 141-130 loss at Phoenix on Sunday marked the first time the Bucks dropped back-to-back games this season.
Now it's a three-game skid.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"I played Division III basketball so I can definitely imagine that," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer on imagining Italian sports leagues playing games without fans because of the new coronavirus.
Bucks: Milwaukee got back into the game with eight easy points off five Nuggets turnovers in the second quarter, when the Bucks trimmed a 52-36 deficit by closing the first half on an 18-10 run. ... The Bucks play seven of their next eight in Milwaukee.
Nuggets: Jokic continued a recent trend of non-assertive play on the offensive end as he made just one basket in the first half. ... The Nuggets play seven of their next eight on the road -- and their only home game during that stretch is against the Clippers, who beat them by 29 points this month.
Bucks: Host Boston on Thursday night.
Nuggets: At Dallas on Wednesday night.