Struggling Mavericks have no fear of Bucks


The Dallas Mavericks are struggling during the NBA’s restart, losing three of their first four games.

But perhaps facing the NBA-best Milwaukee Bucks next in Saturday’s game at The Arena near Orlando isn’t such an arduous task.

The Mavericks will attempt to complete a two-game season sweep of the powerful Bucks in the next encounter, as the first meeting saw Dallas end Milwaukee’s 18-game winning streak 120-116 on Dec. 16 on the Bucks’ home floor.

And the Mavericks prevailed despite Giannis Antetokounmpo — the heavy favorite to win his second straight NBA MVP award — exploding for 48 points and 14 rebounds.

The rematch means nothing to the Bucks (55-14), who wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with Thursday’s 130-116 victory over the Miami Heat.

But Antetokounmpo is gauging his team’s performance with the bigger picture in mind. Milwaukee lost to the Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference finals and he wants the team to take the next step.

He knows exactly who can stop the Bucks, who are just 2-2 since the season resumed.

“I think the biggest challenge for us is ourselves,” Antetokounmpo said after the win over Miami. “How are we going to play? How hard are we going to play? Are we going to play for one another? Are we going to defend hard? Are we going to be able to rebound the ball? Are we going to be able to make the extra effort? Are we going to dive on the floor?

“It’s all about us. It’s all about us.”

Antetokounmpo and fellow forward Khris Middleton each scored 33 points against the Heat. But the win wasn’t as easy as the final score might indicate.

The Bucks trailed by one with under five minutes remaining before ripping off 20 straight points. And the defense was shaky as the club gave up 73 first-half points for the second straight contest.

“It was just effort,” Middleton told reporters. “We all spoke about it (at halftime) and realized we just weren’t playing our best basketball. We were one or two steps behind on everything.

“So our focus was just play harder, play better.”

Perhaps that message also applies to the Mavericks (41-30), who lost 126-111 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday. Dallas has allowed at least 110 points in each game of the restart.

Star point guard Luka Doncic said he isn’t dismayed despite his strong personal efforts only equating into one win over four games.

“We’re a great team,” Doncic said after the setback against the Clippers. “We’ve always got chances, no matter what. I think some people count us out, but we’re not out. We’ll give our max.”

Doncic is averaging 32.8 points, 11 rebounds and 9.8 assists in the four games. He had a 40-point outing in a loss to the Phoenix Suns, a career-high 20-rebound performance in an overtime win over the Sacramento Kings and made six 3-pointers against the Clippers.

And his greatest skill is passing the ball. He has notched 10 or more assists in three of the games.

“I think Luka Doncic is really one of the unique young players really in the history of the game,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “He’s very much his own man, very much his own kind of style of play, and extremely unique, and that’s something that should be celebrated.

“I don’t like putting a lot of demands on young players with comparisons, and then comparing stats. That shouldn’t be relevant. What should be relevant is the fact that he continues to work to refine his game, which he’s been doing each of these two years.”

Big man Kristaps Porzingis is also playing superb at the NBA “bubble,” and had 30 points and nine rebounds against the Clippers. He is averaging 30.3 points and 10 rebounds in the four games.

The Mavericks will likely be without shooting guard Seth Curry, listed as questionable because of leg soreness, for the third straight game.

–Field Level Media

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