The Milwaukee Bucks, under new coach Doc Rivers, visit the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Monday night in matchup where each team can make a statement to the rest of the league.
The game in Denver will be Rivers' first with Milwaukee, who are 32-14 and second in the Eastern Conference. Rivers was hired to replace Adrian Griffin, who led the Bucks to a 30-13 record before his firing.
Denver is currently third in the West at 32-15. The defending champions were recently blown out by the New York Knicks 122-84, and while Denver bounced back with a 111-105 win over the Philadelphia 76ers without Joel Embiid, they'll want to ruin Doc's debut with a quality win.
|DEN Nuggets -4.0
|Ball Arena, Denver, CO
|9:00 PM ET, Monday, January 29
|How to watch
|NBA League Pass
The Milwaukee Bucks are fully healthy for Monday's game against Denver.
Vlatko Cancar: Knee, out
Julian Strawther: Knee, out
When comparing this year's Bucks so far to Doc Rivers' teams of the recent past, there are a few noticeable differences. The first is pace: Adrian Griffin had Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard and Co. playing with the third-fastest pace, while Rivers employed a below-average pace in his most recent tenure as Philadelphia 76ers head coach.
The defensive ratings of Rivers' Sixers teams tended to be below average, which is the case with the Bucks currently. In terms of how Rivers directed the Sixers on offense, they used the league's second-most isolation plays, fourth-most post-up plays, and the seventh-fewest transition plays.
What does that mean for Milwaukee? Based on those numbers, Rivers will want to put the ball in the hands of Giannis and Lillard often, and he'll tell their teammates to get out of the way when the stars get the ball.
The Bucks likely won't run as much, and tonight will indicate how quickly Rivers aims to input his style of offense. There could be some adjustment issues if Rivers tells his new team to start slowing down their pace tonight, and that could benefit Denver.
The Nuggets do not push the action, playing with the second-slowest pace in the NBA.
Star center Nikola Jokic, who leads the league in touches per game at the elbow and in the post, likes to try and find space for himself or create opportunities for teammates by drawing the attention of the defense. That takes time and patience, and the Bucks may not be up to that challenge if they're still accustomed to Griffin's fast pace.
On the other hand, Antetokounmpo and Lillard might feel liberated by Rivers' insistence on giving the ball to his star players, although his offense can become predictable as Sixers fans found out. For example, Embiid was second in the league in frontcourt touches per game (54.1) last season with Rivers as his coach, and his nearest teammate - James Harden - was second on the team in that stat with just 34 per game.
The Nuggets know what they are good at, and they do it well. The question is how quickly Milwaukee can adjust to their new coach and prepare for the defending champions amid a tumultuous time behind the scenes.
Odds mentioned in this article were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.