Bulls fall to Mavericks, win streak ends at nine

Chicago's 113-99 loss to Dallas is their first defeat of 2022 as their last loss came December 11, 2021.
by Sam Smith
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The slumping Bulls Sunday, despite 20 points each from Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, blew a first-half double digit lead and lost to the streaking Dallas Mavericks 113-99.

What, you didn't think they were going to lose again?

Actually, it didn't look like it though those nine consecutive Bulls wins and 28 days off the NBA calendar without a loss, a Coach of the Month award for Billy Donovan, two Player of the Week designations for DeMar DeRozan, first place in the Eastern Conference, probably the shooting highlight of the season with DeRozan's back to back Happy New Year buzzer beating game winners stretching from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C, and Vegas trying to buy back those Bulls preseason betting slips.

The stories we all have to tell.

"We, as players, that's not something we necessarily talk about too much," Nikola Vucevic said about the team's best victory run in a decade. "We were just more like, ‘Let's try to keep it going.' It's not easy to have those long winning streaks. It would have been nice to get to 10, double digits, but we didn't play good enough tonight to win and they played a very good game."

So, yes, all good things mush come to an end.

Tap to watch highlights from Chicago's Sunday night game vs. Dallas.

English writer Geoffrey Chaucer is credited with saying that first. Along with nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I'm still checking this, but supposedly, don't mess with Texas.

It didn't end up well for the Bulls in Dallas, running into that equally famous Texas idiom, What is that on the bottom of your boots?

The Bulls sure stepped in it, as well, giving up a 43-33 lead midway through the second quarter and then getting outscored 19-9 to open the fourth quarter for a deficit even DeRozan couldn't overcome.

So, at least, we have our memories.

"It's really, really hard what these guys did, even finding a way night in and night out to get the wins they had gotten winning nine in a row," said Donovan. "I'm really proud of what they did. But I've always said we can't just look at (it like) we're on some little winning streak here. We have to look at the totality of where we're really at and where we are heading and where we are going and how we are trending. As a coach, like I said, I wasn't trying to take anything away from what they did in the nine-game winning streak. But there is a bigger picture coming."

And it may come down to who is in that picture.

The league has been scrambled all season with injuries, and especially Covid-related absences that have decimated entire rosters. The Bulls faced it among the first and starting Tuesday against Detroit begin a month leading up to All-Star break with an excessive schedule that includes the postponed games. And teams presumably will start getting closer to whole with the returns from the virus absences. So while Donovan isn't taking anything away from what the Bulls have accomplished, you aren't always what your record says you are.

"I think you still cannot always measure yourself just because we are getting an outcome," Donovan said.

Tap to watch postgame comments from coach Billy Donovan after Chicago's nine-game win streak was snapped by the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.

Though the league is noticing. This Bulls run isn't a mirage.

"We showed that we can beat some good teams," said Luka Doncic, who led the Mavericks to their sixth straight win with 22 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. "We beat Golden State, Chicago... I think we can play with anybody."

Which is the giant first step the Bulls have taken.

It wasn't a dominant scoring game for either LaVine or DeRozan. And Vucevic and Coby White, the latter off the bench, had 13 points each. The Bulls bench was outscored 34-28 with Mavericks second-year player Josh Green with 18 points.

Though the larger question for this Bulls team as players continue to return may be where the game turned Sunday.

Donovan pointed to a stretch late in the second quarter when the Mavericks closed the half on a 9-0 run. But the change may really have started with about seven minutes left in the second quarter—and certainly there were many later chances to alter the outcome—with the Bulls leading 43-33.

Donovan came out of a timeout with one of his favorite small lineups, four guards and Vucevic. Dallas immediately scored six straight and the game was mostly close from there. The Bulls led 55-54 at halftime and Dallas led 83-79 after three quarters. Then another small ball start to the fourth quarter with four guards and Derrick Jones at center saw Dallas began to pull away.

Nikola Vucevic hits a jumper in the first quarter against Dallas.

Nikola Vucevic finished with 13 points on 6-of-17 shooting and 6 boards in the loss to Dallas.

Though to criticize anything the Bulls have done the last month is a large nit to pick.

And, truthfully, I kind of like the way Donovan uses athletic oriented smaller lineups. It's had most to do, besides Zach and DeMar, with the Bulls place in the East.

But Donovan also walks a high wire without a net with that strategy because it relies so much on steals, deflections and transition points. Alex Caruso remains out, and he is one of the principal igniters of that scheme. But it's also a design that requires sturdy legs and active minds, which aren't as consistent as the season bores to its midpoint. Add to that the extra games.

One of the reasons the Bulls have been a joy to watch is the fluidity of their play, unselfish on offense and doberman-like on defense. They've been able to bake up so many of those wins with lineups sprinkled with 6-5 athletes. It's been the yeast that's helped leaven the 26-11 record, which still is the heartiest in the conference over the Nets by a game and a half.

But if it's not performing with its usual elan, it could lead to the rebounding deficit, like the 48-39 for Dallas even with just seven Bulls turnovers.

"I thought offensively tonight we didn't necessarily play with a really good rhythm and flow, and we were very, very choppy," said Donovan. "Part of it is we haven't been whole and we are getting whole. I don't think our guys ever once used that as an excuse. They have gone out and competed and they played hard and they worked. Tonight, Dallas was better than us. That's just the way it was. They were better than us on both ends of the floor and we have to get better and we have to improve. It's not anyone's fault, but there is slippage when you are getting the results we've gotten over the last nine games and you play a team like this."

The Bulls devoted considerable attention to Doncic, which is reasonable, and he was just three of 11 for seven points in the first half. But as he adjusted, the Bulls didn't as much and the help on Doncic left Dallas perimeter shooters with as much open space as, well, Texas.

Maxi Kleber made six threes and Dorian Finney-Smith four, most with the Bulls admiring from afar. And for one of the rare times this season and certainly in the last month, you could have turned to football. Heck, the outcome of a Bulls loss was so rare and unexpected, Chicago media forgot to discuss the presumed departure of the Bears coach for several minutes.

Move along, nothing to see here. Probably until Tuesday. And then Brooklyn Wednesday and Golden State Friday. Plenty more to come. Like Chaucer said, have we got a tale for you.

Got a question for Sam?

Submit your question to Sam at asksam@bulls.com

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


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