Preview: Bucks vs. Nuggets
MILWAUKEE -- Despite the Milwaukee Bucks' impressive start, the first few weeks of the Mike Budenholzer era have led to some uncertain moments for Thon Maker.
Milwaukee's first-round pick -- No. 10 overall -- had played sparingly through the Bucks' first 14 games this season. He didn't even step foot on the court in their first four contests before getting 12 minutes of work at the tail end of a blowout victory at Minnesota.
Maker stayed positive and continued to give full effort in practice; something Budenholzer took notice of and led to a brief conversation last week.
"Just to be ready. You never know when your number's going to be called," Maker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of Budenholzer's message.
When the Bucks return to action Monday night against the Nuggets in Milwaukee, Maker will get his chance. Forward John Henson was lost indefinitely to a wrist injury that will require surgery leaving minutes available.
"It's a big opportunity (for Maker)," forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. "I always talk to Thon every day. It's all about getting better and bringing energy for his team because that's what he's got to do. He can't have nights off."
He'll need to earn the additional playing time but Budenholzer is confident that Maker can provide the impact Milwaukee needs, especially early -- something that's been an issue for the Bucks their last two times out, a loss to Memphis and victory over the Bulls last Friday.
Maker played 18 minutes in that last contest and while he made just three of 10 shots, all three were from beyond the arc, and he also grabbed three rebounds without committing a turnover.
"I think he's having a positive impact for us," Budenholzer said. "I think in the first half and in general, we're not playing with the kind of urgency we need to play with and, again, he's somebody that brings the effort, the energy. He lifts his teammates up. It's very unfortunate - injuries happen - but to have somebody like Thon that brings that to the table (is important). The timing of his emergence into the rotation, I think is very good for us because we need that."
Maker did not play when the Bucks and Nuggets faced off last Sunday in Denver. The Nuggets trailed by 11 to start the fourth quarter but used a 13-2 run to get back in it and took a 2-point lead with 3:24 to play. They wouldn't score another basket, though, until there were just 31.6 seconds left in the game and Milwaukee pulled away during that stretch for a 121-114 victory behind 28 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
"From quarters 1 through 4, just breakdown after breakdown after breakdown," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the loss. "I think (Milwaukee) probably had at least 20 points off of lack of discipline whether it be personnel or game plan tonight."
The loss was Denver's third in a row after starting the season 9-1. The Nuggets have won just once since and come to Milwaukee having dropped five of their last six contests including a 125-115 decision Saturday night in New Orleans.
Nikola Jokic is expected to be in the starting lineup Monday night after injuring his groin when he slipped on a wet spot in the first quarter against the Pelicans. He finished the game without issue but did report soreness afterward.
"I think he might have maybe pulled something, but he was able to play the rest of the game," Malone said.