Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Mavericks (03.02.18)

Tonight the Bulls and the Dallas Mavericks meet at the United Center to close out the season series. Chicago knocked off the Mavericks in the first contest, 127-124, back on January 5th in Big D. Kris Dunn paced the Bulls with 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting (70.6%) and handed out nine assists. Chicago shot 56.4% from the field (44-of-78), 50.0% from behind the arc (14-of-28) and 80.6% from the charity stripe (25-of-31). The Bulls also outrebounded the Mavs, 42-34. Wes Matthews led Dallas' attack with 24 points, going 7-of-14 (50.0%) from the field, including 5-of-9 (55.5%) from downtown. Harrison Barnes was right behind Matthews with a 23 point effort, shooting 10-of-21 from the field.

In order for the Bulls to complete the sweep they are going to have to get off to a fast start and stay focused and poised all night long. It's going to take a determined effort from up-and-down the roster, as collectively, Chicago, who has lost five straight coming into tonight, needs to sport a hard-nosed attitude at both ends of the floor.

The Bulls are at their best when they establish a fast pace, pushing the ball up the floor quickly and look to aggressively attack the rim before the defense has time to set up. To be truly effective they must also spread out, placing shooters all along the 3-point arc to force the defense to abandon the paint. They need to generously share the ball with one another - it has to freely skip from player-to-player, and hop from one side of the court to the other to put pressure on the defense. Every player should continuously be on the move as well, darting in-and-out of the paint and all around the arc to help free up driving lanes to the hoop.

Defensively, Chicago has to play physical and effectively close down the paint while at the same time attempt to make life miserable out on the perimeter. The Mavs generate most of their offense outside of the paint. They're currently tied with Cleveland for 3rd in the league in 3-point field goal attempts at 32.7 per game. On the year Dallas has gone 733-of-2,027 (36.2%) from deep. They've knocked down at least 10 3-pointers in 46 of the 62 games they've played this season. In fact, they've connected on 19-or-more trifectas five times.

Wes Matthews poses the most serious threat from behind the bend. The 6'5" shooting guard is launching 6.4 treys a game, connecting on 38.4% of them. Not too far behind is rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. at 5.0 attempted triples. However Smith hasn't been as lethal from far away as he clocks in at just 30.6%. Nevertheless, he has been one of the top rookies in the league. In 54 games (all starts), Smith's averaging 14.6 points (2nd on the team), 3.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 29.4 minutes per game. Among rookie leaders, he ranks 5th in scoring, 11th in rebounding, 4th in assists, 4th in steals and 7th in minutes.

A couple of other Mavs to keep an eye on are veteran forward Harrison Barnes and former Chicago fan favorite, Doug McDermott.

Barnes is averaging a career and team-high 6.4 rebounds this season to go along with a team-high scoring average of 18.3 points. He has led Dallas on the glass 25 times, and recorded a career-high 10 double-doubles this season. Just the other night against OKC, Barnes tallied a team-high 26 points to go along with five rebounds, five assists and two steals in 39 minutes.

McDermott arrived in Big D from New York in a trade deadline deal three weeks ago. In seven games with the Mavs, "Dougie McBuckets" is putting up 8.9 points in just 21.7 minutes. Last week he came off the bench to help Dallas upset Indiana by notching 15 points, going 5-of-8 from the field, including 4-of-4 from downtown.

Last, but certainly not least, one can't talk about the Dallas Mavericks without bringing up future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki. This is Nowitzki's 20th season in the NBA - all with the Mavs. He and Kobe Bryant are the only players in league history to play 20 years with one club. The Big German became the sixth player in NBA history to reach the 31,000 point plateau with his patented one-legged fadeaway jumper at the 7:57 mark of the second quarter against OKC Wednesday night. In addition to being the franchise's all-time leading scorer, Nowitzki is also Dallas' all-time leader in games, minutes, field goals, 3-pointers, free throws, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, total rebounds and blocked shots.

In short, Chicago will need 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 they can accomplish these objectives, the Bulls will give themselves a good shot of coming out on top at the end of the evening.