Keys to the Game: Bulls at Mavericks (01.05.18)

Tonight the Bulls and the Dallas Mavericks meet in the Heart of Texas at the American Airlines Center in Big D in the first of two get-togethers set for this season. Both enter tonight hoping to rebound from hard-luck home losses Wednesday night. The Mavericks had an impressive four-game winning streak (vs. Toronto, at Indiana, at New Orleans, at OKC) snapped thanks to a last-second Steph Curry 3-pointer that gave the defending NBA Champion Golden State Warriors a 125-122 road victory after blowing a double-digit lead during the game's final four minutes. Mavs guard Wes Matthews went 7-of-10 from beyond the arc and totaled a team-high 22 points, including 18 in the second half, to go along with five rebounds and four assists in 38 minutes. Dwight Powell came off the bench for Dallas and put up 21 points (7-9 FGs, 2-2 3FGS, 5-5 FTs), including 12 in the second quarter, to go along with eight rebounds, two assists and a steal. Harrison Barnes (18), rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. (14), JJ Barea (13), Dirk Nowitzki (12) and Yogi Ferrell (11) were the other Mavs posting double digit scoring totals.

As for the Bulls, Chicago led most of the way but stumbled down the stretch, getting outscored 35-24 during the final stanza to fall to the Toronto Raptors, 124-115, at the United Center. Toronto's DeMar DeRozen led all scorers with 35 points, while teammate Delon Wright set career-highs with 25 points and 13 rebounds. Justin Holiday led Chicago's attack with 26, followed by rookie Lauri Markkanen's double-double of 22 points and 12 rebounds — his eighth double-double of the season. Forward Niko Mirotic enjoyed another strong game off the Bulls' bench with 20 points, but the loss was Chicago's third straight after having won three-in-a-row prior.

Tonight's contest is the first of a back-to-back set of games for the Bulls, as Chicago will immediately fly to Indianapolis to take on the Pacers tomorrow night.

The Mavericks has had the Bulls' number of late as they've swept the season series the last two years. In order to get back on track this evening, Chicago is going to have to commit to playing a hardnosed, physical game and pledge to outhustle the Mavericks in every way.

Chicago's offense is designed for every player to get involved in the action, and thus for it to click the ball must freely be shared. It has to swing from one side of the court to the other and from player-to-player in order to force the defense to expend extra energy and generate open looks at the rim.

It's also important the Bulls not rush or launch quick, contested shots, but rather in establishing a free-flowing rhythm, they need to be patient and take care of the ball, keeping turnovers to a bare minimum while skipping it from player-to-player.

Thus tonight whenever the Bulls are on offense look for them to spread out, stationing shooters evenly along the arc to draw Dallas' defense to the perimeter to open lanes to the cup. Chicago's primary ballhandlers, principally Kris Dunn, Jerian Grant, David Nwaba, Justin Holiday and Denzel Valentine, need to aggressively drive the ball into the paint to create chaos for the Mavs team defense. If the defense adjusts and begins to slide down towards the basket, attempting to trap or double-team any of Chicago's attackers before they get to the rim, those attackers have to make an adjustment of their own by finding an open teammate hovering on the perimeter and get him the ball. Overall the Bulls, collectively, have done a pretty solid job of attacking and getting the ball into the paint and finding open teammates on the wings.

In short, Chicago has to come out of the gates quickly and establish a fast and aggressive pace, keeping everyone mentally and physically engaged at both ends of the floor. If the Bulls can accomplish these objectives, they'll give themselves a real shot of coming out on top at the end of the evening.