The Milwaukee Bucks were expected to face two major obstacles if they were to match their franchise record winning streak, but that path got a bit clearer with an unfortunate injury to an opposing superstar.
Reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks bid for their 19th consecutive victory on Monday night when they host the Dallas Mavericks, who are expected to be without Luka Doncic.
Doncic sustained a right ankle sprain after stepping on the foot of Miami guard Kendrick Nunn while driving to the basket during the early moments of the first quarter of Saturday’s 122-118 setback to the Heat in overtime.
X-rays were negative for the reigning NBA Rookie of the Year, who is averaging team-leading totals in points (29.3), rebounds (9.6) and assists (8.9) this season. He recorded his eighth triple-double on Thursday with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists in a 122-111 win against Detroit in Mexico City.
So, what is the mindset of the Mavericks going forward without Doncic?
“Next man up. Luka obviously is a huge, huge part of this organization and this team. To see him go down is not easy to see,” Tim Hardaway Jr. told the Dallas Morning News. “We’ll just try to figure things out; Coach is going to do a great job of putting us in certain situations to be successful.”
The Mavericks did a fine job of that on Saturday, as they overcame the departure of Doncic as well as a 24-point deficit before getting cooled off by the Heat in the late stages of overtime.
“If you play hard and do the right things for 48 minutes, you’re going to have a chance in this league,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “We’ve got plenty on this roster to win a game like this, even with Luka out. We’ve just got to do better.”
Doing better will be a tall task against Antetokounmpo, who is averaging team-leading totals in points (31.0) and rebounds (12.8) for a Milwaukee club that hasn’t lost since a 103-100 setback at Utah on Nov. 8.
Antetokounmpo scored 29 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor in the Bucks’ 125-108 victory over Cleveland on Saturday. The win put Milwaukee two shy of its franchise-best streak, set in 1970-71 on the way to its lone NBA championship.
“When we run and our pace is really fast, everyone gets easy ones, and everyone gets open shots,” the 25-year-old Antetokounmpo said. “It just makes the game fun. And when the game is fun, I think everyone defends, also.”
Antetokounmpo collected 31 points and 15 rebounds in the Bucks’ 116-106 win versus the visiting Mavericks on Jan. 21 before adding 29 and 16, respectively, in a 122-107 victory in Dallas on Feb. 8.
Like the Mavericks, Milwaukee also has endured its fair share of injuries.
Starting guard Eric Bledsoe, who is averaging 15.0 points and a team-high 5.7 assists, is expected to be sidelined the next two weeks with a leg injury. Donte DiVincenzo collected 15 points, five rebounds and four assists while making the start in place of Bledsoe versus the Cavaliers.
“We’ve got a deep team, it’s insane,” Antetokounmpo told reporters. “That’s about it. (If) Bled is not playing and I’m not playing, this team could be a playoff team. It could be a 50-win team. Obviously Khris (Middleton), Bled, me, all the other guys that are big parts of this team, but there are days when other guys got to get the job done. So far, we’ve been doing that.”
Dallas likely will lean on Kristaps Porzingis, who recorded his first double-double this month with 22 points and 14 rebounds against Miami.
–Field Level Media