After a loss to the Miami Heat in which it felt like the Mavericks shouldn’t have won, yet should have won, but didn’t win, the scheduling Gods have bestowed the NBA’s best Milwaukee Bucks as Dallas’ consolation prize after the up-and-down affair.
The biggest news from Saturday’s tilt was Luka Doncic’s ankle injury, and the Mavericks now have to face Giannis Antetekounmpo and the 24-3 Bucks without their second-year superstar.
As of Sunday night, the Bucks tout the league’s third highest offensive rating (114.8) and the highest defensive rating (102), so the Mavericks are staring at a giant while being shorthanded.
Here’s what to watch for Monday:
There’s no slowing down Antetekounmpo. It’s not even worth the thought exercise. But the Mavericks have some players to throw at the Greek Freak to at least provide some semblance of discomfort. Dorian Finney-Smith will likely get a crack. He’s rangy enough and gives maximum effort, which should at least make Antetekounmpo work on offense. Dwight Powell and even Kristaps Porzingis will take a turn or two. But the Mavericks most well equipped player to guard Antetekounmpo (if there is such a thing) is Maxi Kleber. The Wurzburg native is agile, athletic and long enough to attempt to disrupt the reigning MVP’s flow, and the Mavericks will need it to have a fighting chance.
Life without Luka
The Mavericks are staring at about a two-week timeframe without Doncic, which means other players will have to step up to keep the Mavericks afloat. Tonight’s the first look at what Rick Carlisle schemes with preparation, so it will be interesting to see who steps to the forefront.
Against the Heat, Tim Hardaway Jr. shined, scoring 28 points while connecting on 43 percent of his 14 triples. I’ll go on record saying this kind of production isn’t sustainable, and I’ll happily eat crow if I’m wrong. Ideally Porzingis steps into the 1A role, but it’s been vividly clear he isn’t ready. That doesn’t mean he won’t be featured in pick-and-pops, or at the very least, the Mavericks use his gravity to generate open looks for other players more.
Ultimately, the Mavericks will likely go with the platoon approach, because no one player can fill Doncic’s shoes. The team will need Porzingis to step up, Seth Curry to be consistent and Delon Wright to assert himself to ride the wave of Doncic’s absence.
Defending the three-point line
Tonight’s game features two of the top three teams in terms of three-point attempts. The Mavericks come in with the second most attempts at 40.8 per game, while Milwaukee comes in just behind at 39.3. Interestingly enough, both clubs convert at a 36 percent clip, so it’s fair assume whoever controls the arc will have a leg up in winning the game.
The Bucks are loaded with shooters in George Hill (.534), Khris Middleton (.413), Wesley Matthews (.377) and Kyle Korver (.360), and that doesn’t even account for Brook Lopez who has struggled this year but connected on 36 percent of his attempts last season. Without Doncic, the degree of difficulty will be significantly higher for the Mavericks’ triples, but the team will need Seth Curry, Maxi Kleber, Hardaway and Porzingis to hit consistently to steal one in Milwaukee.
How to watch
The game tips at at 7 p.m. and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest and NBATV.