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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks clash with the Bucks

Dallas will try to get off on the right foot as they move toward a new era of Mavericks basketball.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA trade deadline is becoming a cultural phenomenon, and the Mavericks played a major role in the days leading up to the trade deadline frenzy. Dallas shipped off four of the five players in the starting lineup off in surprising moves that signify a new era in Mavericks basketball.

Somehow, the Mavericks are only four games back of the eight seed with 29 games to go. On the other side, the Bucks are leading the East and used the trade deadline to stock up for a potential Final run by nabbing Nikola Mirotic. The Mavericks lost the first matchup on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 116-106. Luka Doncic recorded his first career triple double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, but the Bucks, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 31 points and 15 rebounds were too much for Dallas to overcome.

As the two squads battle for the second and final time this season, here’s what to watch for:

A new era of Dallas basketball

Maybe that phrase has been used a little too loosely over the past few seasons, but it finally feels like the Mavericks have gained traction to building a competitive team for the next several seasons. When the Mavericks disbanded the title team, they never seemed to find their footing, retooling the team every year. They finally acquired some semblance of a foundation when they signed Harrison Barnes and looked to be building with the addition of Dennis Smith Jr. But after Wednesday night’s shocking trade that sent Barnes to Sacramento, the Mavericks have officially started the clock on the future.

Give Donnie Nelson and the front office credit for acquiring a potential star to pair alongside Doncic while also clearing the books to be players in free agency this summer. That takes guts, but Nelson has seemingly pulled the right strings since his draft day deal to acquire Doncic. Nobody knows what the future holds, but the Mavericks have cleared the way to a Doncic-led future, and they face a stiff test to start it off against the Bucks.

Star power

While the Bucks have a trove of talent, the Greek Freak is clearly the engine that makes them go. Antetokounmpo is currently leading the Bucks in points (27), rebounds (12.4) and assists (5.9) as he’s on his way to an MVP caliber season. For the Mavericks, after the blockbuster deal on January 31, Doncic is leading the club in the same statistical categories (27 points, 10.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists). There are plenty of other storylines to watch, like the Mavericks integrating players like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Jackson, or the Bucks getting a good look at Mirotic. But make no mistake, this game is about the stars.

The Milwaukee Juggernaut

It’s hard to say if the Bucks are a measuring stick for the Mavericks because they are so, so good. If we’re looking for moral victories, the new-look Mavericks just need to stay competitive. Currently, Milwaukee is second in the league in points per game (117.8), second in field goal percentage (48.2 percent), second in three pointers made per game (13.3), first in rebounds per game (48.7) and first in blocks per game (6.4). They are good. Really good. Even at home the Mavericks will need to play near perfect basketball to take down the NBA’s best.

How to watch

The game tips off at 7:30 CT and can be watched on Fox Sports Southwest and NBA League Pass.