Keys to the Game: Bulls vs Mavericks (12.03.16)

DALLAS -- After back-to-back losses to drop an NBA-worst 3-15, the Dallas Mavericks are grasping for any positives heading into Saturday night's game against the visiting Chicago Bulls.

So despite dropping successive games to San Antonio and Charlotte, the injury-riddled Mavs are focusing on the fact that they were competitive against the Spurs and Hornets. It's not the kind of thing a franchise like Dallas, which has made playoff appearances in 15 of the last 16 seasons, is used to doing, but right now they have little choice.

"Look, it's a 48-minute game and good starts are a very important part to winning in this league, but one thing I like is if we get off to a slow start, our guys don't get discouraged," Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said following Thursday's 97-87 loss to the Hornets. "They keep battling. Guys are battling. We're hanging in, we're giving ourselves a chance, but we've got to work through this period and get these guys fully healthy. You know, get these guys full speed and full minutes, and our chances will be much greater."

Dallas will again be without star Dirk Nowitzki (sore right Achilles tendon), who has played in just five games this season. He will miss his fourth consecutive game after making his long-awaited return, which lasted just two games. Guards Deron Williams and Devin Harris are back, but both remain on minutes restrictions. Guard J.J. Barea (calf) remains and guard Seth Curry (knee) could play after missing Thursday's game at Charlotte.

Meanwhile, the retooled Bulls are playing some intriguing basketball with hometown hero Dwyane Wade leading the way. The former Miami Heat superstar put up 24 points, five rebounds, four assists and a couple steals in Friday night's impressive 111-105 home win against Wade's former teammate LeBron James and his newly crowned Cleveland Cavaliers.

Wade is now just four assists shy of recording 5,000 for his career. Only seven players have managed that since 1984, with one being James.

The big win saw Chicago improve to 11-7 to start the season under second-year coach Fred Hoiberg. However, Dallas won't have to face its nemesis Wade. Hoiberg said Wade won't make the trip with the Bulls in a four-games-in-five-nights situation.

Chicago has other weapons. Against Cleveland, the Bulls, who rank 13th overall in scoring at just under 105 points a game, had four starters score in double figures against Cleveland and three had more than 20 points with all-everything Jimmy Butler going for 26 points, eight rebounds, five assists, three steals, two blocks and a single turnover in 41 minutes.

Veteran point guard Rajon Rondo was spectacular with a triple-double of 15 points on 7-of-12 shooting, 12 assists, 11 rebounds, plus three steals.

"I thought Rondo was great all night long," Hoiberg said after Friday's win. "You could hear him yelling 'Run with me' to all the guys all game."

Now, even had Wade been available, they head into a game that could easily fall into the trap category in that it's the second game in consecutive nights, coming off an emotional contest followed by a dreary eyed arrival into Dallas. If the Bulls can get wins on back-to-back nights it sets it would end a win-lose flip flop dating back to Nov. 19.

Chicago won't want to let one get away to a three-win team either considering the difficult three-game stretch ahead against Portland and Detroit on back-to-back nights followed by a visit from the road-perfect San Antonio Spurs two nights later.

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