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Feb 11, 2024 2:17 pm

Bucks to put defensive mindset up against Nuggets

Patrick Beverley

The Milwaukee Bucks are just 2-5 since Doc Rivers took over as head coach for Adrian Griffin, but there have been a few encouraging signs for the team.

The Bucks will look to build on one of their best defensive games of the season when they host the Denver Nuggets on Monday night.

Milwaukee is out to avenge a 113-107 loss to the Nuggets on Jan. 29 in Denver, which was Rivers’ first game with the Bucks.

Milwaukee’s defensive struggles played a key factor in Griffin’s departure, but the team has taken steps to address the issue since Rivers came aboard.

The Bucks ended a three-game losing streak on Friday, when they cruised to a 120-84 win over the Charlotte Hornets. Milwaukee led by as many as 42 and held Charlotte to 34.2 percent shooting from the field.

“I thought we set a tone defensively,” Rivers said after the game. “We were flying around tonight. Our energy was high. I didn’t see our guards get picked tonight. We’ve just got to keep working on it.”

Damian Lillard returned after missing two games due to an ankle injury and scored 26 points against the Hornets, while Malik Beasley had 21 points on seven 3-pointers.

Patrick Beverley made an immediate impact in his Bucks debut on Friday, finishing with six points and four assists in 12 minutes. The veteran point guard was acquired from the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday to help bolster Milwaukee’s perimeter defense.

At least for one game, Milwaukee’s focus on defense led to positive results. The Bucks held Charlotte to 17 points in the first quarter and kept the pressure on throughout the contest.

“We were just more physical,” Lillard said. “Doc just challenged us. He checked us on what we say we want to do versus what we’ve been doing. To be a team that is considered a contender and what we want to accomplish, we’ve got to start acting like it.”

Denver had its three-game win streak end in a 135-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Friday. The Nuggets played without Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (hamstring) and Michael Porter Jr. (knee), both of whom are listed as questionable to face Milwaukee.

Denver trailed by 32 points in the fourth quarter and struggled to slow the Kings, who shot 58.6 percent from the field and outscored the Nuggets 60-42 in the paint.

“We beat ourselves,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “Thirty-seven points off turnovers, and that led to a lot of transition points for them. They had 60 in the paint. They made 17 3s. (We had) 21 turnovers, and when they convert at that kind of a rate, 37 points off your own mistakes, you’re not giving yourself a chance to win.”

Malone has given second-year wing Peyton Watson an increased role in recent weeks, and the UCLA product has responded. Watson is averaging 8.8 points on 62.5 percent shooting over his last four games.

The defending NBA champions hope Watson can continue to develop as a top defender and 3-point scoring threat.

“I’m one of those guys that can affect the game without the ball – always have been, always will be,” Watson said. “I think that those times that I put everything I can into defense and rebounding and just helping us win, I think it just wears the other team out.”

–Field Level Media

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