The Mavericks are finishing up facing a murderer’s row of the NBA’s top tier teams in the Los Angeles Clippers Thursday night and the Milwaukee Bucks Saturday night. The Mavericks have fallen short in three out of four bubble games but will try to bounce back in what could be a Finals preview. (This is most definitely not a Finals preview, but I want to see if my editor is paying attention. Editor’s note: I AM. But we’ll allow this. We need some good vibes right now).
The Mavericks took a hammer to the Bucks 18-game winning streak in December without Luka Doncic, in large part to Kristaps Porzingis’ 26 points and 12 rebounds. They were able to survive 48 points and 14 rebounds from Giannis Antetokounmpo to steal a 120-116 road victory.
Dallas will need another gutsy effort to take down a team eyeing a Finals run.
Who guards The Greek Freak?
As physically dominant and imposing as they come, Antetokounmpo poses a matchup problem for literally every single team in the league. This season after his MVP campaign, he’s upped his per game averages to 30 points, 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists while shooting 55 percent from the field.
The Mavericks will likely give Maxi Kleber about as much Antetokounmpo as he can handle. Blessed with quick feet for his size, Kleber is about as well equipped as one could be to mitigate the the Freak’s rare blend of size, strength and basketball talent. Porzingis will spell Kleber at times simply because the Mavericks’ don’t have anyone else. Dorian Finney-Smith will also get a crack, because he’ll have to.
Can the Mavericks get hot from deep?
In the December road win against the Bucks, Dallas hoisted 41 triples and connected on 16 of them (39 percent). Milwaukee allows the most three-point attempts to opponents in the entire NBA at 39.3 attempts per game. The Mavericks were always going to launch them, but the Bucks willingness to let teams fire from deep assures the Mavericks chances will live behind the line. The Mavericks have struggled to find consistency from range, shooting 35, 22 and 19 percent from three in their last three games.
Which role player steps up?
In the four restart games the Mavericks have been buoyed by stellar superstar play. Doncic is posting 33 points, 11 rebounds and 9.8 assists in nearly 40 minutes per game, while Porzingis is contributing a cool 30 points and 10 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. Aside from that it’s been a mystery box each night. Tim Hardaway Jr. has yet to find his shooting stroke, and with Seth Curry suffering from ominous leg soreness, the Mavericks’ next spark plug is Trey Burke, who they signed off the street before heading to Orlando. The Mavericks’ depth has been viciously exposed, but they need someone to step up to have any chance at knocking off the Bucks.
How to watch
The game tips off at 7:30 p.m. CT on ESPN.