Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Mavericks (01.03.21)

The Bulls and the Dallas Mavericks tip-off at the United Center tonight for the first of two meetings this season. The two will tangle a second and final time in Dallas two weeks from today, on January 17th. As for tonight, fans can catch the action on TV and radio (NBC Sports Chicago / WSCR-AM 670 / TUDN, Univision 1200AM) beginning at 7:00 PM.

As for what keys to look for this evening, the Bulls need to continue getting better at communicating and trusting one another at both ends of the floor. Offensively, Chicago must freely share the ball, but in doing so, must also do a far better job of keeping turnovers in check. The Bulls come into tonight as the NBA's second worst team in turnovers committed at 18.8 per game. That simply can't continue, otherwise it's going to be a very cold winter and long season going forward.

The ball must swiftly jump from player-to-player and from side-to-side in order to force Dallas to expend extra energy on defense, as well as open driving lanes to the hoop and free looks from the perimeter. The Bulls can't allow themselves to fall into a bad habit of standing around and watching one player take on the Mavericks team defense by himself. Constant ball and player movement – in and out of the paint – is key in creating a free-flowing offensive rhythm.

The Bulls must also keep their poise with the ball in their hands, as Dallas oftentimes gets aggressive defensively in the hope of forcing opponents to rush shots and turn the ball over. The Mavericks can play a very physical game, so Chicago needs to weather that storm and be willing to match, and even surpass, Dallas' physicality.

As for playing defense, Chicago must keep a close eye on the 3-point arc, as the Mavs are not shy when it comes to launching from behind the line. Currently, Dallas ranks 10th in the league in 3-point attempts at 37.8 per game. All-Star Luka Dončić leads the team in scoring at 24.4 per game (and rebounds at 7.6 and assists at 6.4). Against Miami on New Year's Day, Dončić fired 10 times from behind the arc. And although he hit on only three of those tosses, he's more than capable of finding his stroke from downtown and instantly taking control of the game. However, as of this writing, there is a possibility that Dončić will not suit up, as the Mavericks have listed him as questionable due to a left quad contusion. If he can't answer the bell, that'll certainly help Chicago's cause, but Dallas has a number of other talented and explosive players the Bulls will need to contend with, such as Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith.

Hardaway Jr. leads the Mavericks in 3-point attempts at 7.4 per game (hitting on .378%), followed by Dončić at 6.2, Richardson at 5.8 and Finney-Smith at 5.4. Former Bulls forward, James Johnson, signed with Dallas as a free agent and comes off their bench to spark their second unit. So far Johnson has hit on 42.9% of his shots from deep, while power forward/center Maxi Kleber has connected on 47.4% of his long tosses while averaging 3.8 attempts per game. So clearly, the 3-point shot plays a major role in the Mavericks offensive attack.

Once again, the Bulls will have to play shorthanded this evening as Lauri Markkanen, and reserves Tomas Satoranskŷ, Ryan Arcidiacono and Chandler Hutchison are still sidelined due to NBA Health and Safety Protocols. Thus, in order for Chicago to come out on top, the team must produce a gritty and determined effort on both ends of the floor, especially so on the boards, down in the paint, and off the bench.

If the Bulls can keep turnovers in check, and outwork Dallas on the boards, and go hard after every loose ball and long rebound, they should give themselves a good shot of pulling off their first home win on the new season.