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Bucks-Nuggets Preview

AP - Sports

The Milwaukee Bucks begin a five-game road trip against the Western Conference still searching for a complete effort after they struggled again to protect a big lead.

The Bucks will try for their third straight win Monday night when they face the Denver Nuggets, playing the third game in a back-to-back-to-back stretch.

After finishing last in the NBA in scoring last season (91.9 points per game) Milwaukee is much improved offensively, averaging 98.3 points this season. However, it's struggled to protect early leads.

The Bucks (2-1), who blew a 14-point advantage in a season-opening loss against Charlotte on Dec. 26, led by 26 early in the third quarter against Washington on Friday. The Wizards would pull within nine before Milwaukee pulled away for a 102-81 victory.

Brandon Jennings helped the team hold on, scoring eight points during a 16-8 run in the fourth quarter to take back control.

"Right now we should really be 3-0,'' said Jennings, who finished with 22 points. ''We were up at halftime against Charlotte, and we lost a lead. And tonight we were up (24) at half and let a team come back. That is something we really need to focus on, especially going on a West Coast road trip. On the road in hostile environments you have got to be able to contain the lead and take over.''

Milwaukee went 9-21 against teams from the West last season and it will get an early chance to see how it stacks up against the opposite conference with a five-game trip, beginning with Denver and Utah on back-to-back nights.

If Jennings continues to play well, a winning road trip is possible. The point guard is averaging 22.7 points - six more than last season - and 5.3 assists.

While the Bucks have been idle since Friday, Denver will be playing its third game in as many days.

The Nuggets (3-2) split a home-and-home set against the Lakers over the weekend, losing 92-89 on Saturday before bouncing back with a 99-90 home victory Sunday. Danilo Gallinari led six players in double figures with 20 points. He missed an easy fast-break layup that would have tied the game Saturday, but hit two crucial layups late Sunday.

While the Nuggets failed to take advantage of scoring opportunities in Los Angeles, they were more effective Sunday. Ty Lawson had 17 points and 10 assists and Denver used its speedy lineup to outscore the Lakers 26-5 on the fast break.

"I feel they have size at every position on the court and I feel we have speed at every position on the court,'' coach George Karl said. "The only way I know to incorporate it into a strategy is try to play fast and quick."

With Lawson running the offense, Denver averaged 111.3 points in its first three games. While the Nuggets didn't break 100 Sunday, their bench had another big game, outscoring the Lakers reserves 40-30.

That could be helpful Monday at the end of a grueling stretch.

Denver won both games against Milwaukee last season, limiting Jennings to 9.0 points on 25 percent (6 for 24) from the field. The Nuggets have won four of five at home against the Bucks.

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