Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Mavericks (01.17.17)

The Chicago Bulls (21-21) and the Dallas Mavericks (13-27) meet for the second, and most likely, final time in the Mavs’ only Windy City visit.

Chicago is attempting to post its third straight victory and climb back over .500, while Dallas is also going for three-in-row tonight, but for them, just making the break even mark looks to be very far away on the horizon.

The Bulls hit the hardwood coming off solid, back-to-back weekend victories, first over New Orleans Saturday afternoon at the UC, and then over the Grizzlies in Memphis, Sunday night. The Mavs stacked their twosome of triumphs beginning last Thursday in Mexico City by beating Phoenix and then pushing past Minnesota in Big D, Sunday. If Chicago can claim victory this evening it will be the fourth time this season the Bulls would have won three straight, but if Dallas comes out on top, it will be the Mavericks’ first trifecta of the 2016-17 campaign.

In the first matchup between these two played in Dallas on December 3rd, the Mavericks, who were 3-15 at the time and were missing sure-fire Hall-of-Famer Dirk Nowitzki who was out with an injury, relentlessly went on the attack and never trailed, stampeding their way to a 107-82 flogging of Chicago — the same Bulls team who the night before had run its record to 11-7 after knocking off the defending NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers on national TV.

As it stands now, that 25-point spanking is the Mavericks’ largest margin of victory this season. As a team, Dallas recorded a season-high 31 assists on 40 made field goals, while Chicago could only muster nine dimes on 32 makes. Chicago also committed a whopping 20 turnovers, which Dallas eagerly and happily converted into 24 points.

Wesley Matthews led the Mavs’ charge, scoring 20 of his team-high 26 points during the second half, while Dallas free agent import, Harrison Barnes, scored 17 of his 22 points on the night during the opening 24 minutes of the game. Veteran Dallas playmaker Deron Williams also had an impressive evening, hitting three-of-three from downtown and handing out a season-high 15 assists with only one turnover. Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 26 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Also of note, Chicago’s Dwyane Wade did not make the trip to Dallas, so like Nowitzki, Chicago’s soon-to-be named starting All-Star guard also missed the game.

On the whole this season, Chicago has generally found success whenever they charge out of the blocks and play fast throughout the entirety of the contest. In order to exact some revenge, the Bulls will need to quickly establish a gritty mindset and look to run from the jump this evening.

Another key factor as to whether or not it is going to be an enjoyable night for Chicago is how the Bulls do on the glass. Currently they lead the NBA in rebounding with an average of 47.4 per game, while Dallas comes in dead last (No. 30) with only 38.0 boards a night.

The Bulls have similarly been robust on the offensive window, also ranking No. 1 with a mark of 13.6 per game, while once again Dallas finds itself at rock bottom, snagging a league-worst 8.3 offensive rebounds. Thus opportunity looks to be at hand for the Bulls this evening as a major bonus to being a strong offensive rebounding team is that your squad is often able to post easy scores via put-backs. Thus far this season Chicago has taken often advantage of its dominance on the offensive boards as they are NBA leaders in a third statistical category — second-chance scoring — at 16.3 points per game.

Since the Bulls are not a very good perimeter shooting team, controlling the boards and taking advantage of second-chance scoring opportunities has helped them stay in and win a number of games. For example, Chicago has won 17 times this season when they outscore an opponent on second-helpers, and 18 times when they capture the glass.

Offensively, good things have happened whenever the Bulls aggressively push the ball up the floor and keep it jumping from player-to-player and from side-to-side. When the ball hops freely and doesn’t wind up stuck in anyone’s hands for more than a couple of beats, Chicago’s offense lights up the scoreboard and everyone tends to play well. But in order for that to occur, every player has to buy into the concept and stay fully engaged as to what’s going on in front of them.

Thus this evening the Bulls need to make a concerted effort to spread out on offense in order to open up the floor and draw defenders away from the rim. At that point, if/when a path to the basket opens up, Chicago needs to go on the attack and ruthlessly take the action to the iron, forcing Dallas’ defenders to scramble and foul.

As a team, the Bulls have been brilliant at making their way to the free throw line. Heading into tonight, Chicago has outscored opponents 820-595 at the charity stripe, which translates to a +225 points on the year. To break it down further, the Bulls have shot 20 or more free throws 32 times, which ranks 8th in the league, and have converted 20 or more free throws 22 times, which is tied for first with Cleveland, Charlotte and Toronto. As a team, Chicago has also shot an impressive 80.1% from the line, which ranks 5th in the league.

In short, the Bulls’ primary objective is to come out fast, strong and play with passion at both ends of the floor. From the opening tip to the final horn, it is vital that they play with a chip on their collective shoulders and hit the hardwood determined in every way possible. Chicago needs to get out on the break as often as possible and share the ball with one another without turning it over an inordinate number of times. It is also essential that they take command of the boards — at both ends of the floor — and in turn, limit Dallas’ opportunities to post easy scores in transition. Thus hustling back defensively is a must.

To stay on track, Chicago simply cannot afford to lose focus at any time this evening. 

- Anthony Hyde