Keys to the Game: Bulls at Mavericks (01.17.21)

The Bulls swing through Dallas this afternoon to tangle with the Mavericks and close the book on the season series in hopes of a sweep. Chicago won the first matchup two weeks ago, 118-108, at the United Center. Dallas was without All-Star, Luka Dončić, who was a last-minute scratch with a quad issue, as well as forward Kristaps Porzingas. But Chicago was also shorthanded that night, playing without starting forward Lauri Markkanen and top reserves Tomas Satoransky, Ryan Arcidiacono and Chandler Hutchison, each of whom were sidelined at the time due to the league's health and safety protocols. Markkanen and Arcidiacono are back in action this afternoon, as well as Dončić and Porzingas, however Satoransky and Hutchison are still shelved for the time being.

In the first game, Zach LaVine poured in 39 points and Coby White scored 21 of his 23 points on the day in the second half, to lead Chicago to victory. Jalen Brunson, starting in place of Dončić, had 31 points to lead Dallas.

Fans can catch today's game on NBC Sports Chicago and also on radio at WSCR-AM 670, beginning at 2:00 PM.

The Bulls come in having lost four straight after failing to close out a very winnable game that ended as a 127-125 overtime loss Friday in Oklahoma City. LaVine once again led the team with 35 points, seven rebounds and six assists, while White added 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. also had solid games, each scoring 16 points, with Carter Jr. additionally snaring 11 rebounds. As a team, Chicago shot 47.3% from the field and a sizzling 45.7% from the 3-point line, dominating most of the game, at one point leading by as many as 22, before eventually committing a season-high 24 turnovers to help aid a ferocious Thunder comeback to steal the win.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks were aiming to post a fifth straight win before getting stopped in Milwaukee, 112-109, on Friday. Dončić led the Dallas charge with 28 points, nine rebounds and 13 assists. Tim Hardaway Jr. also added 22 points on nine of 17 shooting and Porzingis chipped in with 15 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks. As a team, the Mavericks shot 46.4% from the field and 36.1% from behind the 3-point line.

So far this season, the Bulls have been a high-powered offensive team, averaging 116.8 points per game, good for 4th in the league. Defensively, however, it's been a completely different story, as they sit 29th (out of 30) surrendering a whopping 121.6 points. Chicago is also at the bottom when it comes to committing turnovers, fumbling an insane 18.3 per game, with opponents benefitting to the tune of 21.4 extra points per – second most in the league. In their last two contests, both losses, the Bulls have committed 47 turnovers leading to a combined 64 points for the opposition. That simply can't continue.

In order for Chicago to turn things around they need to continue liberally sharing the ball from player-to-player and from side-to-side, forcing opponents to scramble and burn extra energy. Quick, deft passing will free up driving lanes to the basket and generate uncontested shots from the perimeter. The Bulls need to play fast, but they also can't continue recklessly losing control of the ball. They can't stand around and watch a teammate attempt to go one-on-five, either. Continual ball and player movement – in and out of the paint – will allow them to get into a free-flowing offensive rhythm.

A primary key to achieving success, not only today, but also going forward, will be to continue improving the team's ability to communicate and trust each other at both ends of the court. Chicago must dig deep and come up with a hardnosed effort, especially on the boards, and in the paint.

If the Bulls can keep turnovers under control, and outwork Dallas on the glass, as well as relentlessly fight tooth and nail for every loose ball and long rebound, they'll give themselves a good shot at being the last team standing at the end of the day.