It wasn’t all that long ago that a game pitting the Milwaukee Bucks and Dallas Mavericks against one another would have been negligible, but this season several narratives have shifted in the NBA. The Bucks are cruising along as one of the league’s new powerhouses. Milwaukee currently owns the NBA’s best record at 40-13, and they have opened a bit of a lead at the top of the Eastern Conference.
Dallas isn’t a playoff team – not yet, anyway – but they may have as bright of a future of any team in basketball. What was very recently a team with zero direction now looks like it has one of the more exciting cores of young talent in the league. Luka Doncic has been downright incredible so far as a rookie. Just before the trade deadline, the Mavericks came out of nowhere to steal Kristaps Porzingis from the Knicks. Suddenly, Dallas looks like a team on the rise.
|2019 ATS Home||17-9-1||19-7-0|
|2019 ATS Away||14-10-2||15-12-0|
|2019 O/U Home||14-12-1||10-14-2|
|2019 O/U Away||11-15-0||11-15-1|
The Bucks have been a consistent playoff team in the Eastern Conference over the last few years, but they have never really looked like a serious threat to make it to the Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a generational type of player, but the Bucks’ old coaching staffs were never able to figure out how to utilize his talents properly.
Milwaukee had also surrounded him with a bunch of non-shooters. Given Giannis’ own lack of shooting range, the Bucks’ offense often looked jumbled and crowded. Packing the paint isn’t something that works in the modern NBA. It’s crucial for contenders to be able to space the floor and be threatening from long range.
Last year, the Bucks attempted just 24.7 3-pointers per game as a team. That was good for the fifth-fewest in the league. The offensive rating was still a respectable seventh, but there was clearly room for improvement. Enter new head coach Mike Budenholzer, who helped transform the Atlanta Hawks into one of the best teams in the league during his time there. Budenholzer implemented an offensive style predicated on spreading the floor, and the dividends have been massive.
Milwaukee now hoists 37.6 triples a night. Only the Rockets (nearly 45 per game) take more. The Bucks are 11th in conversion percentage (35.5), and they have moved up to fifth in offensive efficiency. Milwaukee scores 111.4 points per 100 possessions, which has them ahead of fellow contenders like the Raptors, 76ers, Celtics, and Thunder.
Giannis still can’t shoot, but he does just about everything else. The Greek Freak is borderline unstoppable. Still only 24, Giannis is in the midst of a career year. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27 points, 12.4 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game. He’s also averaging 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks, for good measure. He seemingly gets into the paint whenever he wants, and opposing teams usually can’t do anything to combat his crazy length and athleticism.
The Bucks added another shooter at the trade deadline. Nikola Mirotic will be coming over from the Pelicans, but the team isn’t sure if he’ll be ready to suit up in time for tonight’s game. If he can, he will join Milwaukee’s already strong arsenal of shooters that includes Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon. Mirotic will be able to play some small-ball center, and he can shift outside and let Giannis play center if teams run Lopez off the floor.
Being versatile on both ends of the floor is a requirement if teams have any hope of beating Golden State in a playoff series. It remains to be seen whether the Bucks will get their chance at dethroning the Warriors, but they have as good of a shot as anybody. At least right now.
It’s been a long time since the Mavericks were all that exciting. The team knocked off the heavily favored Miami Heat back in the 2011 NBA Finals, but the franchise has been trending downward ever since. Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson tried desperately to keep building a contender around franchise cornerstone Dirk Nowitzki, but they were never able to get over the hump. Dirk is still around, but the Mavs still haven’t won a playoff series since that championship nearly eight years ago.
Dallas has endured a couple of bleak seasons, but things started to turn last summer when they were able to acquire Luka Doncic in a draft-day deal with the Atlanta Hawks. In exchange for the draft rights to Trae Young and a future first-round pick, the Mavs were optimistic that they were getting the new face of their franchise. So far, he has definitely looked the part.
Doncic came to the NBA after a successful career playing in Spain. The Slovenian started his professional career at a remarkably young age, so it’s fairly incredible that he’s still only 19 years old. So far, he has made his transition to the NBA look alarmingly easy.
Through his first 51 NBA games, Doncic is averaging 20.6 points, 7.1 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. He has shot nearly 35 percent from 3-point range, which only figures to improve as he acclimates himself to the NBA game. Doncic has already racked up 3 triple-doubles as a rookie. He just missed out on making the All-Star team, but it’s safe to say Luka has plenty of All-Star appearances in his future.
Dallas traded DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, and Dennis Smith Jr. to the Knicks last week in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, and Courtney Lee. Porzingis is unlikely to play this season after tearing his ACL about a year ago, though, so the Mavs will have to wait to see their newest star playing alongside Doncic. In the interim, Doncic will continue to rule the offense, even with Dallas short-handed.
Length is a bit of an issue for the Mavs at the moment. Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell are having to share most of the minutes at center. Both are fine players, but neither is the rebounder and paint patroller that Jordan was, which leaves a hole in the middle for this team.
The Mavericks also traded Harrison Barnes during their game the other night against the Hornets. Barnes averages nearly 15 shots per game, so someone is going to have to step up and help Doncic out offensively. Hardaway Jr. is a guy that was not bashful at all about taking his shots while a member of the Knicks, so he’s the guy I would imagine will take a larger role in the offense without Barnes moving forward.
The bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture is in flux, so there is an outside chance Dallas can sneak in. The Los Angeles Clippers look likely to tumble down the standings after essentially gutting their roster at the deadline. The Clips currently hold the No. 8 position in the West, so someone currently on the outside should get in ahead of them. The Lakers look like the most obvious candidate, but the Mavericks are just 3 ½ games out of that final playoff position entering play Friday.
This will be the second and final meeting of the season between the teams. They met in Milwaukee back on MLK Day. The Bucks won that game 116-106, but Doncic proved problematic. Antetokounmpo led the way with 31 points and 15 rebounds for the Bucks, but Doncic countered with his first career triple-double. Luka scored 18 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 10 assists in a losing effort.
The Bucks have scored 115 points or more in three of their last five games, including a 148-point effort last time out in a win over the Wizards. Dallas likes to slow things down offensively, but I’m expecting the Bucks to be able to dictate the tempo of this game. The Mavericks have been surprisingly good at home, so Dallas does stand a decent chance at keeping this one close.
I think the over on 222 ½ points is the play here. Milwaukee’s offense has been on fire, and they are essentially impossible to stop these days. The Mavs being without a ton of offensive weaponry is a concern, but they should be able to nudge their way over that total. Take the over on 222 ½ points tonight.
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