The back-to-backs keep coming for the Mavericks (9-3) and their opponents early in the 2023-24 season. Wednesday’s 130-117 win at Washington completed Dallas’ second back-to-back of the season, and Saturday’s visit to Milwaukee to face the Bucks (7-4) will be the front end of their third back-to-back set. The Mavs are 3-1 in those games so far. For the Bucks, Saturday’s matchup is the back end of the team’s third back-to-back set. The Bucks went 2-2 in their first two back-to-backs.
Does that seem like a lot to anyone else?
If the back-to-backs factor in at all in this matchup, the Mavs will step on the floor at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum with at least a slight advantage in their legs to help offset the Bucks’ home-court advantage. Part of any advantage the Mavericks may have in this matchup starts with the return of guard Kyrie Irving to the lineup, after Irving missed Wednesday’s win in Washington with a sore foot.
Kyrie Irving on the court, seemingly a good sign for his availability in Milwaukee tomorrow night. pic.twitter.com/uGeuBQpS6Z— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) November 17, 2023
Kidd says all Mavs other than Kleber practiced and are good to go in Milwaukee tomorrow.— Brad Townsend (@townbrad) November 17, 2023
Irving participated in Friday’s practice, and Mavs coach Jason Kidd told the Dallas Morning News that everyone on the roster aside from center Maxi Kleber was “good to go” for Saturday’s measuring stick game in Milwaukee. Before sitting out on Wednesday, Irving caught fire from 3-point range in his previous four games, shooting 18-of-33, or 54.5%. He started the season just 7-of-29 from distance.
The Bucks, of course, made one of the biggest splashes in the NBA offseason on September 27 when they traded away guard Jrue Holliday, a 2029 unprotected first-round draft pick and two first-round pick swaps to Portland for Damian Lillard as part of a three-team trade that also included the Suns. The Bucks pairing their generational talent in Giannis Antetokounmpo with another bonafide superstar in Lillard was a move reminiscent of the Mavs’ own midseason trade for Irving half a season ago. Saturday’s matchup will provide the first meeting between these newest two NBA megastar dynamic duos, and fans on both sides will want the bragging rights.
Antetokounmpo comes into the game averaging 29.5 points, 9.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game, while Lillard is getting 24.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. Here are three things the Mavericks need to do to pull off what would be a pretty impressive win at the Bucks.
Keep pace in the battle of star duos
To be clear: Irving and Luka Dončić simply outscoring or filling in more stats than Antetokounmpo and Lillard won’t lead to a win, even if blockbuster duo vs. blockbuster duo performance is the biggest narrative or the biggest highlight generator from Saturday’s game. Dallas appears to have a better supporting cast surrounding their stars than Milwaukee.
If Irving and Dončić can simply keep pace with Antetokounmpo and Lillard on their home floor, this game provides the Mavs’ depth an opportunity to contribute to a win that would go quite a way toward combatting the narrative that, “The Mavs haven’t beaten anybody decent yet.”
Get production from the supporting cast
Derrick Jones Jr. and Tim Hardaway Jr. have been the absolute best versions of themselves to start the season. Hardaway is coming off his best performance of the season Wednesday, leading the Mavericks with 31 points on 7-of-11 3-point shooting. Jones added 20 points, seven boards and two blocks in the win against the Wizards. Grant Williams and rookie center Dereck Lively II have also contributed on both sides of the floor, leaving Josh Green as the rotation piece Mavs fans would love to see a little more production from.
Green scored exactly zero points on 0-of-4 shooting in 37 minutes on the floor Wednesday in Washington and has looked lost on both offense and defense at times to start the season. There’s no game like the next one on the schedule to start turning all that around. The depth of production the Mavs are getting from all over the rotation is allowing Green to work through some of these issues without affecting the outcomes of games to this point, so that’s something.
If the Mavs can get double-digit scoring from several of these guys, you have to like the Mavs’ chances of making a statement in Milwaukee.
Score at will
The Mavericks are no strangers to the shootout this season, and Saturday’s game at the Bucks could be another one. The Mavs come into the matchup at 25th in the league in defensive rating (116.2), while the Bucks are just one spot better at 24th (115.8).
The Bucks lost two of their best on-ball defenders this offseason in Holliday and Jevon Carter, and they replaced them with players some would call defensive liabilities in Lillard and Cam Payne. Poor defensive performances have loomed large over Milwaukee’s four losses. The Bucks fanbase is not pleased with the defense right now, and that is something the Mavs need to exploit in order to escape Wisconsin with a win they can be proud of.
Don’t be ashamed of winning this one 150-145. Getting a win at all in this one will turn a few more heads.