The Dallas Mavericks (6-4) visit the Milwaukee Bucks (8-4) Friday night, looking for their fifth win in a row. Milwaukee (5-1 at home) currently sits at second place in the Eastern Conference, so the task won't be easy for the Mavericks.
Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and Jalen Brunson are still out for Dallas because of NBA health and safety protocols. Torrey Craig is the only player listed out for Milwaukee.
Here’s what we’re watching for:
Luka vs Giannis, the battle of MVP candidates
Before the season started, Luka Dončić was an MVP favorite for most experts and betting websites. Reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will want to prove that he is still the best player in the league.
After a rocky start to the season, Dončić is averaging 30.4 points, 12.6 rebounds, and 10.0 assists in five games in January. Antetokounmpo also had a rough start into the season, averaging 22.4 points on 47% shooting in December. Like Dončić, he is back to his MVP form in January, averaging 29.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 5.7 assists. Even though Antetokounmpo plays at full speed at all times, you can be sure he’ll be additionally fired up for his matchup with Dončić.
Great offense vs great defense
NBA’s best defense and offense clash when these two teams play against each other. The interesting thing this year is, that the roles are reversed. Last season Milwaukee was the best defense in the league, while Dallas was the number one ranked offense.
Per Cleaning the Glass data (which filters garbage time), Milwaukee is the second-best offense in the league, and Dallas is the third-best defense this season. The Mavericks improvement on defense is incredible this season, as Dallas is NBA’s best defense over the last two weeks. Overall Milwaukee is second in the league in point differential, Dallas is close by in fourth place.
Can the Mavericks’ big lineup stop Giannis?
The improved Mavericks defense will face the biggest test of the season. Dallas will face the reigning MVP without their three best wing defenders in Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Maxi Kleber. Especially Kleber will be missed, as he is the player most suited to guard Antetokounmpo. We will see if Carlisle will play the big lineup with Willie Cauley-Stein and Porzingis again. The size and athleticism of both 7-footers created tons of problems for the Hornets on Wednesday. Guarding Giannis is a collective, team task so the Mavericks will need to be disciplined on defense. Guarding Antetokounmpo starts in transition, where all players need to get back and build the wall to keep Giannis out of the paint will be crucial.
Wes Iwundu and James Johnson are the other options coach Carlisle will use defensively if he wants a smaller and more agile defender on Antetokounmpo.
Three point shooting will be key both on offense and defense
The Mavericks are winning games with defense this season, yet against an elite team like Milwaukee, this probably won’t be enough. The Mavericks offense will need to be good as well and especially three point shots need to fall at a decent rate.
Mike Budenholzer’s elite defenses focus on preventing getting teams in the paint. Milwaukee allowed the least amount of shots at the rim in each of the last two seasons and is sixth this season. On the other hand, the Bucks defense allows the most amount of three point shots in the league (28th last season and 30th in 2018-19 season). The Bucks main goal on defense is to prevent paint attacks, even if it means to allow more three point shots.
Last season Dallas won both games against the Bucks, and three point shooting was the key in both games. Dallas got tons of three-point looks (46% of all shots in the first game and 43% in the second), and also made a fair amount of them (39% in the first game, 33% in the second). The Bucks will rather give Wes Iwundu (0-of-3 from three against the Hornets) and Josh Green (0-of-2 from three against the Hornets) open looks than see Luka create havoc in the paint. Milwaukee is also very good in transition defense, the transition being an area where Dallas is surprisingly good this season.
On the other side of the ball, three-point shooting is a big reason why Milwaukee is the second-best offense in the league. Bucks shooters feast when defenses collapse around Giannis. 41.2% of Milwaukee’s shots come from beyond the arc (9th most in the league). Currently, Milwaukee is second in the league in three-point accuracy and first in the league in non-corner three accuracy. Kris Middleton, Jrue Holliday, Donte DiVincenzo, and Bobby Portis are all shooting above 39% from three.
How to watch
Tip off is set for 6:30 p.m. CT, and can be watched on ESPN