Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nikola Jokic own the last four MVP trophies, with both winning in consecutive years while bolstering the reputation of foreign-born players in the NBA.
Both are having MVP-worthy seasons this year, and they will have a chance to state their cases when Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks host Jokic’s Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night.
Not only is the game a clash of MVPs, but it also is a matchup of two of the best teams in the NBA. Milwaukee is third in the Eastern Conference, four games behind the Boston Celtics for the top spot, while Jokic has led Denver to the best record in the Western Conference.
The Bucks are coming off a 150-point performance in a win at Detroit on Monday night. Milwaukee got Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton back in the lineup, and the duo supercharged the offense.
Antetokounmpo had missed five games with a lingering knee issue, and Middleton had not played since December 15.
Middleton missed the first 20 games of the season after undergoing wrist surgery in the offseason, then was shut down after seven games in December due to knee soreness. He played 15 minutes in the win over the Pistons, amassing eight points and four assists.
“The band is back together,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s good to see him out there, run up and down, connect with him, play with him. It’s been a long time. He was doing rehab and going through the battle by himself.
“The healthier we are, the more chance we have to play our best basketball late in the season.”
Jokic missed two games because of left hamstring tightness before returning Tuesday in a 99-98 win at New Orleans on Tuesday night. Jokic had 25 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists for his fourth straight triple-double and his 15th this season.
He also saved the Nuggets from losing a game they led by 19 in the third quarter, hitting a jumper in the lane with 16.9 seconds to go.
Denver was still without Michael Porter Jr., who missed his second game in a row due to personal reasons, and Bones Hyland, sidelined due to a finger sprain.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone rejoined the team after missing four games while in health and safety protocol. Denver went 3-1 under acting coach David Adelman, but its nine-game winning streak and run of 16 straight home victories came to an end against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.
“You miss the camaraderie, but you also miss the ebbs and flows of a game, the emotions of a game,” Malone said after the Tuesday game. “It was great to be back, and more importantly, it was great for this team to get another win and start this road trip off on a positive note.”
The Nuggets have been playing the best basketball in the NBA since early December. They lost at home to Dallas on December 6 to fall to 14-10 but since then have won 20 of 24 to move within a half-game of Boston for the best record in the NBA.