The Dallas Mavericks look to take home a series sweep from the Bucks for the second straight season tonight in Milwaukee. Dallas came up victorious during their first matchup of the season 111–79 back on November 18th in Dallas. The game was quite possibly the most impressive performance of the year for a struggling Mavs team that comes into Milwaukee with a record of 7-18. During the win back in November, the team hit a franchise record 19 3–pointers in route to a season-high 32 point win. As the offense hummed, the defense wasn’t too far behind, conceding a season-low 79 points to the worthy Eastern Conference foe.
Before the Mavs attempt to grab their 10th win in 11 tries against Milwaukee, let’s take you through the matchups that will ultimately determine the outcome of the season series tonight.
Dennis Smith, Jr. (6’3” 185, Rookie) vs. Eric Bledsoe (6’1” 205, 8th year)
The Bucks are 9–4 since Eric Bledsoe arrived in a trade from Phoenix to be Milwaukee’s starting point guard. Bledsoe is a robust and dynamic point guard that will undoubtedly make Dennis Smith’s job a lot harder tonight. Earlier in his career, while backing up Chris Paul in Los Angeles, Bledsoe was regarded as one of the best defensive players from the point guard position. That defensive production slipped in Phoenix, but now it seems that Bledsoe may have regained some of that defensive prowess under Jason Kidd in Milwaukee. His long 7-foot wingspan is disruptive for any opposing guard. He has a rock solid frame and isn’t shy about badgering opposing guards full court.Smith looked clearly agitated with Bledsoe back in November.
During the first matchup between the two, both players were relatively inefficient out on the court. Both starting guards logged just 21 minutes a piece. Bledsoe, in particular, had his worst performance in a Milwaukee uniform shooting only 20% from the floor (2/10) for 6 points
On the season for the Bucks, Bledsoe has appeared in 13 games and is averaging 17.4 points, 4.5 assists, 4.0 rebounds in 30.8 minutes per game. Bledsoe is in the 90th percentile in both block and steal percentage defensively, per Cleaning the Glass. He will hound Smith full court and make it a challenge for Smith to get to the rim offensively. It is imperative that Smith takes care of the ball versus Bledsoe as the young rookie turned it over four times in 21 minutes.
Dennis Smith has been bothered by a hip injury and didn’t practice on Thursday. He did participate in shootaround and is listed as questionable tonight. If he can’t play, look for either Yogi Ferrell or JJ Barea to start in his place.
Advantage: Moderate edge Bucks
Wes Matthews (6’5” 220, 9th year) vs. Tony Snell (6’7” 204, 5th year)
When these two teams first met back on November 18th, Snell started out on Barnes and Middleton guarded Matthews. For positional labels purposes, we have Snell matched up with Matthews here.
Snell is a long rangy 3-and-D wing that shoots over 58 percent of his shot attempts from downtown. Snell has been very efficient this season shooting 40.8% from 3 and 60.7 percent from 2, per Cleaning the Glass. Snell is in the 100th percentile in terms of effective field goal percentage (FGM + (0.5 x 3PTM)) / FGA at 67 percent.
During the first matchup, Snell finished the night with 8 points on 3/6 from the field including 2/5 from 3–point territory.
Wes Matthews had one of the better games as a Mav back in November versus Milwaukee, finishing with 22 points & 8 assists on 8/14 from the field, including 5 of 8 from 3. Much like Snell, Matthews shoots over half of his shots (57%) from behind the 3-point line.
During the first matchup, Matthews took on more of a facilitator role, acting as a lead off-ball ball handler and distributor. He had his third-highest usage rate (20.6%) & true shooting percentage (.786) of the season versus the Bucks, per Basketball-Reference. If Matthews can have another game as he did in the first meeting, it’ll go a long way in securing the road win in his home state of Wisconsin.
Advantage: Slight edge Mavericks
Harrison Barnes (6’8” 225, 6th year) vs. Khris Middleton (6’8” 224, 6th year)
In the first matchup, Khris Middleton posted 23 points on 9 of 12 from the field including 3 of 5 from 3. For the season he is having his most productive year-to-date, averaging 19.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists on 46 percent shooting from the field. His three-point shooting percentage is down this season at 35 percent, but he is attempting a career-high per-game at 5. He rarely gets to the rim only attempting 16% of his shots within 4 feet of the basket which is in the 6th percentile for his position according to Cleaning the Glass. Over half of Middleton shots (53%) are two-point shots not at the rim.
Thanks the Bucks aggressive “blitzing” style pick-and-roll coverage, Middleton and the rest of the Bucks will find themselves on any player from Smith to Nowitzki. They all possess long wingspans, Middleton has a 6-foot-11 wingspan. If the Mavericks smaller guards switch onto him, he will try to bully them in the post. Before Bledsoe’s arrival, the majority of the Bucks offense ran through Middleton when Giannis Antetokounmpo sits. Now with Bledsoe in the fold, Middleton is starting to get additional catch-and-shoot opportunities, shooting 50 percent from 3-point territory during December.
The matchup with Barnes will be one of the key matchups of the night. Look for Middleton to start on Matthews but switch onto Barnes as the game progresses.
Maxi Kleber (6’11” 220, Rookie) vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo (6’11” 235, 5th year)
Giannis Anteokoumpo is a matchup nightmare for any NBA team. He is averaging 29.6 points, 10.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.7 blocks on 55 percent shooting. Giannis leads the NBA in 2-point field goals (230), 2-point field goal attempts (400), free throw attempts (213) and minutes Per Game (37.2). He has recorded 11 double-doubles which ranks 8th in the NBA.
Despite the loss back in November, Giannis did his part finishing the game with 24 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. The Mavericks will throw a number of options on Giannis from Kleber to start to even Wes Matthews at times. Giannis has the ability to get to any spot on the floor thanks to his absurd combination of speed, length, and skill. He is a point-center out on the floor and a legitimate MVP contender this season.
Giannis has the ability to go off for any stat-line imaginable. The first matchup Giannis and Khris Middleton were the only Bucks players who scored in double digits (24 & 23) points apiece. That is a winning type of formula against a relatively thin Bucks team.
Since Rick Carlisle inserted Maxi Kleber into the starting lineup, the Mavericks are playing .500 basketball at 5-5. Kleber had a career-high five blocks in the loss to Boston. If Kleber can bring that type of defensive ability against Milwaukee tonight — maybe just maybe, he can limit Giannis a tad.
Below are some clips of the different ways the Mavericks guarded Giannis during their first meeting:
Advantage: Significant edge Bucks
Dirk Nowitzki (7’0” 245, 20th year) vs. John Henson (6’11” 220, 6th year)
Henson’s game is very similar to that of Nerlens Noel. He possesses good quickness with a slight build and struggles to space the floor. Henson jump shot is limited and he is used more as a rim roller. Kidd has experimented some lineups with Giannis and even Khris Middleton serving as a center. This will be something to monitor during tonight’s matchup.
Mavs fans will like to see a breakout 20+ point performance in Milwaukee — Dirk has shot the 3-point shot better in the month of December at 57 percent on 14 attempts. Dirk for the season is averaging 11.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists on 45 percent shooting from the field. Who’s in for one last dagger performance in Milwaukee from Dirk?
Advantage: Slight edge Mavericks
The Bucks starting unit is outscoring opponents by 17 points per 100 possessions. When Kidd decides to go to his bench is when things break down. During the first matchup in Dallas, the Bucks got very little production from their bench unit as they combined for just 13 points on 6 of 24 shooting. As bad as the offense was the defense for the Bucks was even worse. Players were scrambling around looking lost possession after possession. Defending the three-point line and cleaning up their communication defensive will be vital for the Bucks tonight.
The Mavericks bench unit during the first meeting featured J.J. Barea exploding for 20 points and Yogi Ferrell kicking in 16 points. With Nerlens Noel sidelined the next month, the Mavericks will add a bench piece in rookie Jonathan Motely. After an impressive summer league, Motley has played quite well for the Texas Legends. It’ll be interesting to see how much Rick Carlisle and his staff decide to use Motley now that he is on the active roster.
Advantage: Moderate edge Mavericks
Line: -6.5 Bucks
Prediction: 105-101 Bucks (too much Giannis)
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