The Dallas Mavericks could conceivably still crack the Western Conference’s playoff seeding, but their current concern is breaking out their razors. At 29-33, the Mavs are at least four games away from their goal of a clean shaven, .500 record and the Bucks are the next obstacle. Milwaukee, as Dallas must know, is no pushover right now, having won six of its last seven games — a stretch of games that includes wins over four potential playoff teams and one which began when the Bucks visited Dallas on Feb. 26.
These teams were both much different two weeks ago. A three-game losing streak made the Bucks’ playoff prospects shaky and J.J. Redick was only one game into his career in green. The Mavs had just missed out on adding Brandon Jennings or any point guard through trade and were only slightly farther away from de-bearding. Since then, Vince Carter has had five consecutive double-digit scoring performances (still intact) and, more often than not, the duo of Jennings and Monta Ellis has been what John Hammond envisioned at last season’s trade deadline.
Mavericks: Mike James, O.J. Mayo, Jae Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman
Bucks: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ekpe Udoh, Samuel Dalembert
Just as Dallas is surviving at the hand of a shooting guard, so is Milwaukee. Ellis is averaging 26.8 points, 6.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists in the six games since the last time these teams met. He’s shooting 50.4 percent, an obviously good number that becomes even better when considering Ellis is hitting an atrocious (maybe not by his standards) 26.9 percent from three. In short, he has been efficient near the rim (and, against the Kings, from the free throw line, going 11-12), but every Buck has been afforded extra space in the interior since Redick arrived to space the floor. The former Orlando guard missed Sunday’s game against the Kings after tweaking an ankle, but is expected to return this evening.
While the three-point sharpshooter’s presence will alleviate some of the issues in the paint, it will not resolve them all. Larry Sanders (hyperextended left knee) and Ersan Ilyasova (bone bruise in left knee) may be absent again, making way for Ekpe Udoh and Samuel Dalembert each to play 20-plus minutes. Udoh is most useful when making defensive rotations, but is a non-factor on offense. Dalembert has been better more often than he has been worse in the past two months (remember his show-off games before the trade deadline?), but the pair gave up most of 60 points in the paint to the Sacramento Kings during a 115-113 victory Sunday night. That may not be the case tonight, as Dirk Nowitzki is likely to draw Udoh away from the lane, but that just means he will have to guard the shooting big man nearer the perimeter and open himself up to a set of crafty veteran tricks.
If All Else Fails…
…funnel Mike Dunleavy the ball. The Bucks are 15-3 when he scores at least 13 points, a mark he surpassed with 16 against the Kings.