Keys to the Game: Bulls at Mavericks (10.22.18)

The Bulls are back on the road, this time to take on the Dallas Mavericks down in Big D. Chicago hits the hardwood for the third time this season still in search of its first victory, while Dallas hopes to add another victory in the win column after taking down Minnesota Saturday right here at the American Airlines Center in a wild 140-136 shootout. Mavs rookie Luka Doncic tallied a team-high 26 points (8-16 FGs, 4-9 3FGs, 6-9 FTs) including 15 in the second quarter, to go along with six rebounds, three assists and one block in 36 minutes. Free agent pickup DeAndre Jordan notched his second double-double in as many games with 22 points and 10 rebounds while also swatting five shots. Dallas' starting backcourt of Dennis Smith Jr. and Wesley Mathews also provided plenty of punch, each chipping in 19 points. In fact, Smith Jr. and Matthews combined for 22 of the Mavs' 43 fourth quarter points to close out the victory.

So far Dallas has received big-time contributions from just about every corner of its roster. Like Smith Jr. and Matthews, reserve Dwight Powell also posted 19 points against the Timberwolves, and over Dallas' first two games the 6'11" former Stanford forward has notched a total of 35 points and captured 11 rebounds while hitting 12-of-15 shots from the field. Fellow backup JJ Barea has also played a key role off-the-bench in scoring 21 points and handing out 21 assists while committing just one turnover in 42 minutes of play.

As mentioned above, the Bulls are still searching for their first victory on the season. Chicago opened the 2018-19 campaign with a 127-108 loss in Philadelphia last Thursday, and then fell to Detroit at the United Center on Saturday, 118-116.

Chicago's Zach LaVine has been on fire since the season tipped off. At Philadelphia the fifth-year guard put 30 points up on the board and then turned around and put another 33 up against the Pistons. In doing so LaVine became the first Bulls player since Michael Jordan (1986) and Bob Love (1971) to post back-to-back 30 point games.

The NBA is a no excuse league, however one fact that shouldn't be overlooked in Chicago's 0-2 start is the fact the team has been playing shorthanded to start out the year. Regular starting point guard Kris Dunn has missed the start of the season due to the birth of his first child, while fellow starter Lauri Markkanen has also been sidelined with a severely sprained right elbow and top reserve Denzel Valentine has been out with a badly sprained ankle. Dunn is expected to rejoin the team in time for tonight's contest while both Markkanen and Valentine likely won't be ready to take the court until sometime in mid-to-late November.

Tonight's contest could quickly turn into a real barnburner, as both teams are capable of lighting up the scoreboard have had trouble slowing down their opponents. The other night against Minnesota, Dallas was not bashful when it came to launching long tosses, attempting 50 3s and making 17 from behind the arc. It was the first time in franchise history they cracked 50 from far away. Defensively, the Mavs had trouble defending the bend, as Minnesota shot 52 percent from downtown on 27 attempts. So far the Bulls have attempted 54 3s over their first two games. Don't be surprised if they launch well over 30 this evening, especially if Dallas continues to be slow to react and run shooters off the arc.

To that end, in order for the Bulls' offense to click they have to consistently spread out, stationing at least three, if not four shooters far apart all along the 3-point arc to open up the middle of the floor and draw Dallas' defense out from under the basket. It's also important the Bulls freely share the ball, keeping all five players involved. Ball movement must be crisp and decisive. The offense can't allow itself to fall into a trap of either rushing and taking bad shots or allowing players to throw everything out the window and look to isolate their defender for a one-on-one battle. The ball has to hop and make its way into all five players' hands in order to generate offense. The pace of the game has to be fast and the Bulls need to get into transition as much as possible in order for them to put points on the board.

Defensively Chicago must do a far better job than it has so far of communicating, especially when it comes to calling out blind screens and keeping track of their assigned men. The Bulls can't lose sight of who they're guarding and need to make Dallas work hard for every shot they take.

Lastly Chicago must also look to take advantage of every opportunity to go on the attack by aggressively driving the ball deep into the paint to force the defense into overreacting. If Dallas' defense collapses into the paint to shut off lanes to the hoop, Chicago's ball-handler needs to keep his head up and eyes open in search of an open shooter out on the perimeter for a clean look at the basket.