The Western Conference-leading Nuggets were missing four usual starters in two-time reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (left hamstring tightness), Jamal Murray (left knee/injury management), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (sprained right wrist) and Michael Porter Jr. (personal reasons).
Jokic had returned after missing two games and recorded his fourth straight triple-double Tuesday in a 99-98 victory at New Orleans. But he rested the hamstring Wednesday rather than playing on back-to-back nights. Porter missed a third straight game.
Jrue Holiday had 20 points for the Bucks, who won despite committing 23 turnovers. Pat Connaughton scored a season-high 19 points, matched a career high with 12 rebounds and shot 7 of 8 overall and 5 of 6 on 3-point attempts.
Aaron Gordon had 26 points and 13 rebounds for the Nuggets. Bones Hyland added 15 points.
While the Nuggets were missing most of their top players, the Bucks also weren’t at full strength.
Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis missed a game for the first time this season after spraining his right medial collateral ligament and right wrist Monday in a 150-130 triumph at Detroit. The Bucks said Portis will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
Bucks rookie MarJon Beauchamp was out due to patella tendinitis in his right knee.
Milwaukee led throughout the second half, but struggled to put the Nuggets away.
After trailing by 14 early in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets cut the Bucks’ lead to 94-89 on Christian Braun’s 3-pointer with 5:01 left. The Bucks answered with five straight points and stayed ahead by at least seven the rest of the way.
Nuggets: With injuries leaving the Nuggets at far below full strength, Vlatko Cancar made his first start of the season and third of his career, Braun made his second career start and Zeke Nnaji made his fifth start of the season and seventh of his career. ... DeAndre Jordan played just 11 minutes before fouling out early in the fourth quarter. He had two points and three rebounds.
Bucks: Coach Mike Budenholzer said Portis’ injury hasn’t impacted the status of reserve center Serge Ibaka, who isn’t with the team and hasn’t played since Jan. 1. The Bucks and Ibaka mutually agreed that the team would try to explore a trade involving the 6-11 veteran. ... Middleton came off the bench for the second straight time as he works his way back gradually from a sore right knee. Middleton, who has played just nine games this season, scored 10 points in 15 minutes. ... Antetokounmpo picked up his third foul midway through the second quarter but didn't get his fourth foul until 10:32 remained in the game. ... Antetokounmpo was 15 of 22 from the line. His 22 free-throw attempts matched a season high and were two off his career high.
Nuggets: At Philadelphia on Saturday in the first matchup of the season between the teams.
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Steve Megargee, The Associated Press