Middleton, Bucks aim to get back on track without Giannis

In a season of countless ups and hardly any downs, the Milwaukee Bucks hit their first speed bump with two consecutive losses on Friday night and Sunday afternoon — the team’s first back-to-back losses of the 2019-20 campaign.

It wasn’t pretty Sunday. With reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined due to a minor knee sprain, Phoenix scored a season-high 47 points in the first quarter and never cooled off, beating the Bucks 140-131.

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Milwaukee will attempt to turn the page Monday night in Denver. Unfortunately, the Bucks will be without Antetokounmpo again as they battle the Nuggets, a team that currently owns the third-best record in the Western Conference at 42-21.

It will be the eighth game that the Greek Freak has missed this season. The Bucks actually won their first five contests without Antetokounmpo — and all by double digits. But losses to Indiana (Feb. 12) and Phoenix (March 8) may have shaken the confidence of the team as it navigates without its leader in points, rebounds and assists.

In the seven games without Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are actually averaging more points (123.7 compared to 118.4) and 3-pointers (15.1 compared to 13.5) per contest.

When Antetokounmpo can’t play, Khris Middleton is the offensive ex-factor. He was limited to 17 points in the loss to Indiana and, although he poured in 39 against the Suns, much of that came late when the game was out of reach.

The sharp-shooting guard is averaging 21.1 points per game while shooting 41.8% from 3-point range this season. If he can keep that up, he’ll become just the second Bucks player ever to log 20+ points and a 3-point percentage above 40%. Ray Allen did it three consecutive seasons: 1999-2000, 2000-01 and 2001-02.

The Nuggets have a chance to become the first team to sweep Middleton and the Bucks this season. They’ll have the advantage at home, where Milwaukee has dropped eight of its last nine contests. The Bucks topped the Nuggets at the Pepsi Center in 2018-19 for the franchise’s first win in Denver since the 2009-10 campaign.

Let’s hope for a repeat Monday night.

We’ll have more coverage of the Bucks-Nuggets matchup on Bucks Live. Tune in to FOX Sports Wisconsin on Monday night at 7:30 p.m.