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Bucks vs. Mavericks Preview | With Dirk in doubt, the full Monta expected in Dallas

Monta Ellis is playing his best basketball in years, and he gets a chance to sweep his former team when the Bucks travel to Dallas on Saturday night.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
2013/14 NBA Season
(5-18, 1-1 home)
(13-10, 9-2 home)
December 14, 2013
American Airlines Arena | Dallas, TX
7:30 CT
FS Wisconsin No Local! | 620 WTMJ / Audio League Pass
Probable Starters
Brandon Knight PG Jose Calderon
O.J. Mayo SG Monta Ellis
Khris Middleton SF Shawn Marion Jae Crowder
Ekpe Udoh PF Dirk Nowitzki Shawn Marion
John Henson C DeJuan Blair
2013/14 Advanced Stats
91.5 (28th) Pace 99.4 (5th)
97.2 (30th) ORtg 107.2 (10th)
106.7 (22nd) DRtg 106.2 (20th)

On the Mavs: Mavs MoneyballThe Two Man GameDallas Basketball

Update: Dirk Nowitzki is officially out for tonight's game, in addition to head coach Rick Carlisle. According to Charles Gardner, former Marquette star Jae Crowder will start at small forward while Shawn Marion will replace Dirk at power forward.

Dirk is irkedBoth Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle missed shootaround on Saturday morning due to illness, leaving their availability for tonight's game unclear.  Nowitzki is enjoying a resurgence this year--his 21.0 ppg are up from the 17.3 he averaged a season, and so are virtually all of his efficiency metrics. His 23.4 PER, 60.1% true shooting and 0.197 WS/48 are his best numbers since the title-winning 10/11 season, as good health and the additions of Monta Ellis and Jose Calderon have made life a bit easier for the 35-year-old German superstar.

#MONTE vs Mayo. Everyone's favorite misspelled hashtag is back to his best after two disappointing seasons in Milwaukee, leading the Mavs in scoring (21.5 ppg), assists (5.6 apg) and steals (1.7 spg) while setting personal-bests from deep (36.5%) and getting to the line at a career-high rate (5.8 fta). His 55.8% true shooting, 19.0 PER, and .114 WS/48 are also his best marks since his breakout 07/08 campaign, and--no surprise to Bucks fans--he's been at his best in P&R (0.92 PPP, 8th in the league). And while he had a bit of an off night in his return to Milwaukee on November 9, he got the last laugh in a 91-83 Mavericks win.

With virtually the same contract as the man he replaced in Dallas, Monta has been a relative bargain at $8m per season while O.J. Mayo has been about the same guy he's always been in Milwaukee. While Mayo leads the Bucks in scoring (14.3 ppg) and continues to shoot well from three (38.8%), his 2p% has dipped considerably (41.2% vs. 45.9% career) while his assist and turnover rates have gone in the wrong directions. He looked better last night against the Bulls (14 pts) after scoring a combined 10 in his prior two outings, despite missing practice on Friday due to the death of his grandmother.

8th is enough? Even with Nowitzki playing well and Monta playing his best basketball in a half-decade, the Mavericks are a good-but-not-great 13-10 while sitting in a position all-too-familiar to Bucks fans: the 8th seed. The big difference for Dallas is that they've spent the last decade contending for championships, all of which makes it understandable for Mark Cuban to keep chasing wins while Dirk Nowitzki still has something left in the tank.

Still, that doesn't change the reality facing the Mavericks right now: The Mavericks are a fun team, but their defense has major holes and a slew of playoff contenders are nipping at their playoff heals. The Warriors, Grizzlies, Pelicans and Wolves are all within 2.5 games of Dallas in the playoff hunt, raising questions about whether and how long the Mavs, Nuggets and (especially) Sun can hang on. It seems inevitable that Jeff Hornacek's young Phoenix team will fall back into the chasing pack, but it's difficult to see the Warriors and Grizzlies (once Marc Gasol is back) on the outside looking in once all is said and done. The Mavericks' 95-93 loss in Oakland on Wednesday didn't help, as the Mavs collapsed late to close out a 2-2 road trip that had started so promisingly with wins over the Pelicans and West-leading Blazers.

The Numbers. Though not quite in Bucks-bad territory, the Mavs have struggled on the boards (25th ORebs%, 23rd DReb%) and are 20th in opponent eFG% and 29th in opponent free throw rate. They're 5th in forcing turnovers but a substandard 20th in overall defensive efficiency, just two spots ahead of Milwaukee.