The Bulls return home this evening after a one-night stand in the Big Apple on Saturday to catch up with the Dallas Mavericks for the second time this year. Back in early January Chicago traveled down to the Lone Star State, and although they outrebounded the Mavericks and committed just nine turnovers, Dallas came away the victors, 118-110.
Zach LaVine (20) and Lauri Markkanen (26) produced 20-point performances for the Bulls, while Tomas Satoransky did his best in contributing 11 points and handing out 14 assists, nevertheless Dallas' touch proved lethal from the field, hitting 52.4% of their shots, overall.
The game started as a back-and-forth affair with a number of lead changes, however the Mavs went ahead for good with 1:10 left in the opening quarter and never trailed again, despite Chicago never giving up and eventually knotting the score at 69-69 at the midway point of the third. That's when Dallas All-Star Luka Doncic took matters in his own hands, scoring 12 straight points to put the Mavericks back in the lead for the rest of the night. Doncic went on to post a triple-double with 38 points, 11 rebounds and 10 helpers, while strongman Maxie Kleber came off the Mavs' bench to grab a game-high 15 boards.
Dallas comes to town closing the book on a back-to-back set of games after doling out a 111-91 thumping to Minnesota yesterday in Big D—without Doncic even suiting up. The second-year swingman skipped yesterday's game with a sprained left thumb. As of this writing Doncic's status for tonight is up in the air. The Mavs are comfortably in the catbird seat when it comes to the playoffs with a record of 37-24. They are just three games behind Houston for the 4th seed in the West, and just a game behind Utah for 5th. Chances are the Mavs will decide to take a cautious approach when it comes to their superstar by giving him a second day off to heal.
Another Mavericks shining star, 7'3 forward Kristaps Porzingis, might also be held out after leading them yesterday. Porzingis posted a game-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and five dimes, connecting on career-high tying six three-pointers, however head coach Rick Carlisle said afterwards he might sit Porzingis tonight as a precaution. Porzingis missed all of last season recovering from a torn ACL. So far he's played in 47 of Dallas' 61 games this year, so don't be too surprised if Coach Carlisle gives him the night off, as well.
For Chicago to bounce back after suffering a 125-115 loss in New York over the weekend (the team's 10th loss in its last 11), they will have to deliver a hardnosed, take no prisoners effort in every phase of the game.
Despite often stampeding to fast starts, the Bulls generally have had hard time sustaining momentum, especially at the start of second halves. They'll certainly need another fast start tonight against Dallas, but they must somehow find a way to keep the energy pumping at a high rate for the entire 48 minutes.
Every time they take the floor it's vital Chicago plays unselfishly, freely sharing the ball, skipping it constantly from player-to-player and from side-to-side while also exploring ways to attack the rim. All five players must constantly stay involved in the action. For the offense to generate points everyone must play a dynamic role.
Simply put, the Bulls' attack cannot morph into a series of one-on-one battles, otherwise they won't stand a chance.
Defensively, Chicago must establish a blue-collar tone right away and keep that mindset throughout the night. Currently they lead the NBA in forcing turnovers (18.0) and scoring off those miscues (21.2 per game). Yet the Bulls enter a whopping 20 games under .500 because they just haven't been able to consistently put together complete games at both ends of the floor. However, tonight, looks to be a perfect opportunity to take a step in the right direction.
Offensively the Bulls need to communicate and trust one another. Defensively, they must turn up the heat, pressuring the ball up and down the floor, and quickly recognize opportunities to jump passing lanes and double-team shooters all along the 3-point arc and in the corners.
Collectively, Chicago must also be willing to battle tooth-and-nail for every loose ball as well as control of the boards, forcing Dallas onto its heels and fail to establish a comfortable rhythm.