Tonight the Chicago Bulls (4-9) hit the home hardwood in search of a little payback as well as shooting to post back-to-back victories for the first time in hosting the Dallas Mavericks (4-8) at the United Center.
Coming off a thrilling 99-98 win over Cleveland on Saturday behind Zach LaVine's 24-point effort, the Bulls wrap up their season series with the Mavericks this evening.
The two first met in Big D on October 22nd with the Mavericks capturing a hard-fought 115-109 win. For most of the night the contest was a back-and-forth battle with 15 ties and 17 different lead changes. However a 14-2 Dallas run bridging the third quarter into the early part of the fourth gave the Mavs enough of a cushion to hold off a late Chicago charge to come away with the six-point victory. Six Mavericks notched between 20 and 12 points, led by veteran Wes Matthews' 20, followed by rookie Luka Doncic's 19, DeAndre Jordan's 18, and 12 points each coming from Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell and Dorian Finney-Smith. Jordan also added a game-high 16 rebounds. For the Bulls, LaVine netted a game-high 34 points, while Jabari Parker came off the bench to post 20 points in 24 minutes.
LaVine has been on a tear ever since the start of the year, and this evening he's looking to stretch a career-best string to 15 straight games of scoring 20 or more points. Saturday against Cleveland he again led the Bulls with 24 points, and for the season he's averaging 27.2 points a night (4th highest in the NBA) to go along with 5.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists and one steal while shooting 45.6% from the field, 35.0% from distance and 85.7% from the free throw line — all career-bests.
Dallas' Luka Doncic seems to be the early favorite to come away with the league's Rookie of the Year award, as the 19-year old Slovenian import leads all freshman in scoring at 20.8 points while shooting 48.9% from the field overall and 39.5% from the 3-point line to go along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Chicago rookie Wendell Carter Jr. has also had a terrific start to his NBA career. Like Doncic, Carter is also 19-years old. The 6'10” pivot from Duke is averaging 11.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.08 blocks on the year. Over his last four, Carter's numbers have jumped to 14.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks.
Like most teams in the league the Mavs look to launch an inordinate number of shots from beyond the three-point arc as evidenced by 407 long ball attempts over their first 12 games (33.9 per). In fact Dallas set a new franchise mark for most three-point attempts with 50 in their home opener against Minnesota, going 17-of-50, 34.0%. Against the Bulls a couple of nights later they attempted 47 triples, hitting 15 (32.0%). Other than big man DeAndre Jordan, just about everyone in their lineup has the green light to fire away, thus defensively the Bulls need to pay close attention to the arc this evening and never fail to run shooters off the bend. Veteran small forward Harrison Barnes, who missed the earlier game of the series due to a hamstring injury, is expected to be in the Mavs' starting lineup, and he loves to take the corner three. Last year Barnes twice lit up the Bulls, averaging 24.5 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
Besides Mathews, Doncic and Barnes, Dallas also has another lethal weapon in its arsenal in second-year guard Dennis Smith Jr. who so far is putting up 15.5 points and four assists a game. Against Chicago last year he averaged 20 points and five dimes, as well as two steals.
Tonight, like most nights, the Bulls need to hit the floor running from the opening tip and establish a fast pace right away while also making sure to take care of the ball in limiting turnovers. Dallas would also like to play a fast with Smith Jr. and Doncic in particular hoping to create scoring opportunities in the open court. Thus it is vital Chicago establish a commanding presence at both ends of the floor by ruling the boards and speedily pushing the ball up the floor at every opportunity to deny Dallas time to set up defensively.
In order to achieve success the Bulls have to play with an edge by attacking the middle of the floor and making their way to the basket and free throw line. The most effective way to achieve this goal is to lure the defense to the perimeter and away from the hoop. The ball has to freely be shared, getting and keeping everyone involved in order to force the defense to overplay its hand and free up both passing and driving lanes to the basket.
Defensively, the Bulls simply need to outwork and out execute their opponents. Every player that steps onto the court has to commit to giving maximum effort. They have to be willing to fight for every loose ball and rebound to give themselves a shot of being the last team standing at the end of the night.