Antetokounmpo, newcomer Bledsoe lead Bucks into Dallas

DALLAS -- There is plenty of talk in Dallas these days rehashing the decision Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made in the 2013 draft to bypass Giannis Antetokounmpo as a means to protect salary cap space to go after then-free agent Dwight Howard.

Dallas traded down and eventually drafted guard Shane Larkin. On Saturday night, Cuban will get a front-row view of the "Greek Freak," a player his franchise -- and, frankly, a slew of others -- could have had. Antetokounmpo was the 15th overall pick in the 2013 draft.

Now Cuban's last-place Mavs (2-14) will see a blossoming superstar, a 6-foot-11 athletic marvel that the popular hoops statistical website Basketball-Reference.com lists as a power forward, small forward, shooting guard and point guard.

Heck, the Mavs wouldn't mind starting him at center, a position they thought they had solved with Nerlens Noel, but who recently has found himself residing in coach Rick Carlisle's doghouse.

Antetokounmpo brings the Bucks (8-6) into American Airlines Center on a four-game roll. But suddenly the talk on this team isn't about the league's leading scorer at 30.6 points a game while shooting a cool 57.8 percent from the floor.

No, talk has centered on newcomer Eric Bledsoe, a player the Bucks obtained earlier this month in a trade with the Phoenix Suns. The Bucks are 4-0 since the formerly disgruntled Sun joined the club, providing an explosive presence on both ends of the floor.

"It's a bonus having a guy like Eric that you know is going to make the right plays," Antetokounmpo told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel after Bledsoe hit a crunch-time shot in Wednesday's game to beat the Detroit Pistons. "I think he's doing a great job making the right play down the stretch. You know he's going to keep doing it. We're going to keep trusting him because he's really good at it."

The acquisition of Bledsoe gives Bucks coach Jason Kidd, who won a title with Dallas in 2011, an athletic, veteran player to lead the offense, while relieving pressure from second-year guard Malcolm Brogdon.

Still, Kidd cautioned that Bledsoe has barely had any practice with the team to learn defensive schemes and where each Bucks player likes to operate on the offensive end.

"As much as it has looked as if he's been here for a couple years, it's going to take time," Kidd said.

The Mavs are quickly running short on time to turn around what has so far been a nightmarish season. Friday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves was their fourth consecutive defeat and eighth loss in nine home games.

While rookie point guard Dennis Smith has shown flashes of the type of player he might become, the Mavs, with an aging Dirk Nowitzki, have struggled to keep up offensively.

Friday's loss was the third consecutive game in which they failed to crack 100 points. And now they must quickly turn around and face a confident Bucks team that has enjoyed two nights off since it last played.

"Just got to shake it off, shake it off. That's the beauty of the NBA -- you get a chance to bounce back the very next day," Smith Jr. said. "We've got the Bucks coming in. They're a really good team, but we've got to have each other's backs and come out and compete."