Bucks, Mavs heading in different directions
Over the past several years, as the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo has grown into an All-Star befitting his "Greek Freak" nickname, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has taken on considerable criticism for not nabbing the then-teenager with mad skills in the 2013 NBA Draft.
Dallas had the No. 13 pick in that draft and traded it. The Bucks took Antetokounmpo with the No. 15 selection.
Cuban has acknowledged telling president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson not to select the 6-foot-11 forward with guard-like skills in order to save salary-cap space to pursue top-line free agents. That plan never materialized, and Mavs fans have been left to wonder, "What if?"
As Antetokounmpo has become a bona fide All-Star and the Bucks steadily have climbed the Eastern Conference ranks in his six seasons, the Mavs have been in steady decline with a massively overhauled roster from season to season since Dirk Nowitzki captured the championship in 2011.
"It was me," Cuban told SiriusXM Radio in 2017. "Donnie was like, 'OK, I'm putting my you-know-whats on the table.' He was doing the Sam Cassell, Nick Van Exel dance. ... It's all in. And I'm like, 'Donnie, we have this plan.' Because even as good as the Greek Freak has turned out to be, he was still three years away, and we wanted to try to get somebody who could help get us to the top right there and then. Didn't turn out that way, it is what it is, that happens."
But heading into Monday afternoon's matchup pitting the Mavs at the Bucks, Dallas now is showing off its own 19-year-old superstar-in-the-making, Luka Doncic, who is on his way to becoming an All-Star in his rookie season.
While Doncic has put up All-Star-like numbers, averaging 20.0 points, 5.1 assists and 6.7 rebounds playing the point-forward position much like Antetokounmpo, the wins have not come as easily. Dallas enters the game against the Bucks coming off their 19th road loss in 23 games in a 111-99 defeat at Indiana on Saturday. All in all, the Mavs are 5-14 since Dec. 13.
Dallas also is hoping it has resolved an internal issue that saw 2017 first-round draft pick Dennis Smith Jr. leave the team with a so-called illness. Trade speculation has been rampant amid reports that Smith, a point guard, was unhappy with his role as Doncic has evolved into the team leader.
Coach Rick Carlisle announced Sunday that Smith, who will miss his sixth game on Monday, will rejoin the Mavericks for Tuesday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Carlisle said he and Smith "spoke at length" and that Smith "is feeling better and plans to resume workouts in preparation for his return."
The well-rounded Bucks, with all five starters averaging in double figures and boasting a deep bench, are cruising along, jockeying with the Toronto Raptors for the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and fighting for the best record in the league.
They are riding a four-game win streak into Monday's game and are 17-4 in their last 21 games. Their four home losses are tied for the fewest in the NBA. After playing four of five on the road, the Bucks are home for two games before starting a five-game road trip that will take them into February.
"We know what's ahead of us," Bucks forward Khris Middleton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We know we just have to grind. We're going to have to grind games out, be the tougher team, be more desperate. It's a tough road stretch, but I think the guys are prepared for it. We know what's ahead, we know what we need to do. We want to head into the All-Star break with some type of separation."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 21, 2019