Zaza Pachulia provided the Milwaukee Bucks with not only a physical presence off the bench but a big man who could fill a starting role.
He's been so much more for the Dallas Mavericks since they acquired him in July.
After he was one of four starters to take a night off, Pachulia will return to Milwaukee for the first time Friday night when the Mavericks go after their seventh straight win over the Bucks.
The 13th-year center averaged 8.0 points and 6.6 rebounds with Milwaukee from 2013-15, making 88 starts over that span primarily due to injuries. He helped the Bucks reach the playoffs last season in former Mavs point guard Jason Kidd's first year as coach.
Pachulia was viewed as merely a consolation prize when Dallas traded for him just hours after DeAndre Jordan reneged on a verbal agreement and returned to the Los Angeles Clippers.
The 31-year-old, however, has been terrific for the Mavericks (21-15) with 18 double-doubles in 35 starts after totaling 15 in his 73 games with the Bucks last season. With 10.7 points and a career-high 10.7 rebounds per game, he's one of only nine players averaging a double-double.
Pachulia, who says he loved his time in Milwaukee, faced his former team for the first time last week and had nine points in the first seven minutes as Dallas raced to a 10-point lead. He finished with 17 points and eight boards, and Wesley Matthews scored 22 with five 3-pointers as the Mavericks never trailed in a 103-93 home win Dec. 28.
Pachulia also gave his teammates some advice before they finished with a season-low four turnovers against a team that entered third in the NBA with 19.3 points off turnovers.
"They have length, but once you move the ball from side to side, that's where they can struggle," Pachulia said. "Whenever we moved the ball, we got quality shots."
That's likely to be the strategy again with Pachulia, Matthews, Dirk Nowitzki and Deron Williams set to return after sitting out a 100-91 win at New Orleans on Wednesday. Raymond Felton stepped up with 22 points and Chandler Parsons added 21 with eight rebounds.
A night earlier, Nowitzki, Williams, Pachulia and Matthews had all played 40-plus minutes in a 117-116 double-overtime win over Sacramento. Nowitzki has totaled 47 points in his last two games but had a season-low seven on 3-of-15 shooting against the Bucks.
Matthews has hit 28 of 55 (50.9 percent) from 3-point range in his past eight games and is 9 for 14 in his last two versus Milwaukee (14-23).
The Bucks hope to avoid a third straight loss after falling 117-106 at Chicago on Tuesday. They've particularly struggled defensively, allowing 114.4 points per game over their last five.
"We're going to have to keep working on it - every day," said interim coach Joe Prunty, filling in while Kidd recovers from hip surgery.
Khris Middleton finished with 26 points Tuesday, while Michael Carter-Williams added 20 points and 12 assists and Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 17.
Middleton has been a bright spot with 23.2 points per game while sinking 27 of 53 (50.9 percent) from long range over his last nine. Jerryd Bayless led the Bucks with 19 points in the first meeting, but he could be out after missing 12 of the past 17 games with an ankle injury.
Milwaukee's six-game losing streak to Dallas is its longest in the history of this series, and the Bucks haven't beaten the Mavs at home since Jan. 1, 2011.