Upgraded Bucks seek season sweep of Mavericks
With the best record in the NBA and one of the most potent offenses this side of Golden State, the Milwaukee Bucks seemed to have been in the market for a young, shutdown defender.
On Wednesday, they traded Thon Maker to Detroit for 22-year-old Stanley Johnson, a developing offensive talent, yet a young, relentless shutdown defender.
Just what the doctor ordered, except for one thing: The Bucks on Thursday flipped Johnson -- along with Jason Smith and four second-round picks -- to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nikola Mirotic and his 16.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. The team with the NBA's best record (40-13) got better.
The Bucks hope to have Mirotic in uniform come Friday in Dallas, but he has missed the past seven games with a calf strain. When he does join the lineup, his offensive skills should blend perfectly with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe.
He can shoot the 3, rebound and will be able to spread the floor, giving Antetokounmpo more room to operate.
Some might question why the team didn't keep Johnson, who surely would have been tasked with trying to stop Luka Doncic on Friday. But the Bucks believe the 27-year-old Mirotic's defense is underrated.
Does Milwaukee really need another offensive weapon?
Case in point: The Bucks scored 85 first-half points on Wednesday and defeated the Washington Wizards for their fifth straight win. Milwaukee scored 50 first-quarter points and beat the Wizards, 148-129. They shot 60.2 percent from the field and placed six players in double figures.
Dallas (25-28) also was active at the trade deadline, acquiring Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph -- who is expected to be waived -- for Harrison Barnes. The trade was announced at halftime against the Hornets on Wednesday, and Barnes remained on the bench with his ex-teammates through the fourth quarter.
"He's a better man than me," said Dirk Nowitzki of Barnes. "Everybody else would have bounced out, for sure. He's a genuinely good dude. That's the kind of guy he is."
The spotlight on Friday will be on Antetokounmpo and Doncic.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 27 points, 12.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals per game while shooting 57.1 percent from the field.
Doncic scores 20.6 points, grabs 7.1 rebounds and hands out 5.5 assists per game. He recorded the third triple-double of his young career, becoming the youngest (at 19) ever to do so, on Wednesday in a win over Charlotte. He scored 19 points, grabbed 10 boards and had 11 assists.
Stopping the Bucks will be a daunting task for Doncic and the Mavs. Milwaukee is in the top five in nearly every statistical category. The Bucks rank second in points per game (117.8), first in rebounding (48.7), second in field-goal percentage and third in 3-pointers made.
The Bucks already own a win over the Mavericks this season.
Antetokounmpo scored 31 points to lead six Bucks in double figures in a 116-106 win on Jan. 21.
In that game, Doncic became only the second teenager ever to record a triple-double. (Markelle Fultz, who was traded to Orlando on Thursday, accomplished the feat last season).
"He was pretty much everything I saw," the Bucks' Eric Bledsoe told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel of Doncic. "Him having success, how he carried himself, he was everything I expected."
--Field Level Media
Updated February 8, 2019