Through the first 10 games of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks have gotten an unexpected bonus by drafting Yi Jianlian - increased effectiveness of Charlie Villanueva.
The power forwards try to help the Bucks win their fifth straight game and slow down Dirk Nowitzki as the Mavericks visit the Bradley Center on Saturday night.
Like most rookies, the 6-foot-11 Yi - the sixth overall pick - has shown flashes of brilliance and bouts of inconsistency, averaging 9.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 10 starts. But his addition to Milwaukee (6-4) has allowed Larry Krystkowiak to strengthen his bench rotation with the 6-11 Villanueva, who has found a groove during the Bucks' current win streak.
The third-year forward has scored in double figures off the bench in all four games, averaging 15.3 points and 6.5 rebounds while shooting 53.3 percent (24-for-45). Villanueva had 14 points and nine rebounds in helping the Bucks defeat the Los Angeles Lakers 110-103 on Wednesday, giving Milwaukee no drop off in replacing Yi, who contributed 12 points and six rebounds.
"I've said it before, that is the essence of a team to have a group of people that are united," Krystkowiak said. "There's going to be certain nights that guys are on. I think that Charlie and Yi in particular, the two-headed power forward, those guys really like each other and are pulling for each other. They have a similar game and they're nice weapons to have."
Milwaukee's reserves have averaged 31.8 points during the winning streak, and two bench players reached double figures in the first three games before only Villanueva accomplished the feat Wednesday.
Bucks leading scorer Michael Redd has averaged 32.0 points his last three games against the Mavericks, but only 21.7 points in 10 lifetime games.
Another confidence booster from the winning streak is who the Bucks have beaten the last two games. They held off LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Tuesday before shutting down Kobe Bryant and the Lakers on Wednesday. Now, Milwaukee will get its chance against Nowitzki - the 2007 Most Valuable Player.
The 7-foot German, who the Bucks originally drafted with the ninth overall selection in 1998 before unwisely dealing his rights to the Mavericks (9-3) in what turned out to be a franchise-altering trade that turned Dallas around, had 20 points and 11 rebounds in Friday's 111-107 loss at Indiana that ended a five-game winning streak.
Nowitzki is averaging 20.7 points - his lowest since scoring 17.5 in the 2000-01 season - and 9.2 rebounds. He's also shooting just 79.0 percent from the line, well off his career standard of 86.7 percent, and 30.3 percent from 3-point range after making 41.6 percent last season.
He has averaged 23.8 points in 16 lifetime games against the Bucks and has averaged 30.0 points in three. That figure could have been higher if coach Avery Johnson hadn't rested him in a 105-103 win March 28 after he scored 17 points in just 16 minutes.
Devin Harris had 24 points for Dallas, which rallied from a 16-point first-half deficit to forge a fourth-quarter tie but was never able to take the lead.
"We're making it tough on ourselves,'' Dallas guard Jason Terry said. "It takes a lot out of you to come back like that.''
The Mavericks swept last season's series by a combined eight points, but they have lost 12 of their last 15 at Milwaukee since the 1991-92 season.
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