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Bulls vs. Mavericks game preview: An early season look at your financial championship contenders

Ronald Martinez

[Thanks to bleeinternets for today's game preview. Plenty of games the next couple of weeks if you want to sign up -yfbb]

Hello all. I'm a long time reader and only recently started posting and I thought, "what the hell" and signed up for a game preview. Here goes nothing –

Tonight, the financial champion contending Chicago Bulls face off against the 2010-11 actual NBA champion Dallas Mavericks in a potential Financial Finals preview tonight at 7:00 on Comcast Sports Net.

Both teams have a superstar on the shelf for injury, and are relying on groups of grizzled veterans to keep them afloat. This offseason the Bulls knew Derrick Rose would be out and dismantled their depth (well documented around these parts) hoping to tread water until #thereturn. The Mavericks didn't know that Nowitzki would be out this season but they still retooled their roster with non-league minimum players while maintaining future financial flexibility because, well, that's something good teams should do.

Dallas underwent a two-offseason makeover after their championship as they sought to make a run at free agent Deron Williams. Once he decided to move with the Nets to Brooklyn, Dallas went about bringing in serviceable veterans via trades (Darren Collison), free agency (OJ Mayo, Chris Kaman), and the amnesty wire (ex-Bull Elton Brand). (well documented at Mavs Moneyball) Their plan for a return to glory went slightly off course this pre-season as Dirk Nowitzki underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and will be out until mid-December at the earliest.

Both teams come into tonight one game under .500, the Bulls at 6-7 and the Mavs at 7-8. The Bulls are coming off a home-and-home split with the Bucks (let’s not speak too much about Monday’s disaster), while Dallas has lost two in a row and is on night 2 of a back-to-back.

One time Bulls target OJ Mayo has been carrying the Mavericks in the absence of Nowitzki, posting what is currently a career high of 20.8 points per game. After a hot start, Mayo has put up a couple of pedestrian games in a row with 13 points on 5-of-15 shooting (0-for-5 on 3-pointers) against the Lakers last weekend and 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting (with 7 assists) against the Sixers last night.

That said, even after the 0-fer against the Lakers, Mayo is shooting a ridiculous 52.4% from beyond the arc, while the Mavs as a team are shooting 40% on 3 pointers, good for 5th in the Association right now. The Bulls are 3rd in the NBA in opponent 3-point percentage, but had a hard time stopping the 3-ball against Portland, which led to a loss.

For the Bulls, both Marco Belinelli and Nazr Mohammad are looking to get back into the rotation, and after the second half collapse against the Bucks on Monday, it would be a completely, ya know, reasonable thing to do. It's worth nothing that with Kevin Durant playing only 26 minutes in the Thunder's blowout win over the Bobcats, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah now rank first and second in the NBA in minutes per game (41.0 and 39.2, respectively).

Safe to say the Bulls will roll with the same starting lineup they've had all season, with no significant injuries to report (other than...well). Rick Carlisle, however, has been changing things up of late, going with different starting lineups each of the last four games. The main question for the Bulls is how the lineup will shake out after the starters have gotten a breather (or in the case of Luol Deng, probably half a breath).

How do the Bulls pull out a win here? It probably starts with minutes management: Deng and Noah cannot be totally gassed by the fourth quarter, which means Mohammad and Belinelli have to see the floor at some point, and Rip Hamilton needs to be fresh for the stretch so he's not missing shots at the volumes of the last two games. Unlike Tom Thibodeau, Carlisle isn't afraid to go to his bench, as 13 Mavs average 10+ minutes per game, which means Dallas will have fairly fresh legs all night (our old pal Eddy Curry also averaged more than 10 minutes per game but was released after two games to make room for Troy Murphy).

Also, the Bulls also have to keep up defensively around the perimeter as the Mavs aren't afraid to shoot threes, and they make them at a nice clip. Dallas is pretty bad defensively (28th in opponent points per game), but the question is more about whether the Bulls will be able to exploit that enough, especially late, to get a victory.

Kirk Henderson of Mavs Moneyball answered some questions earlier today and provides more insight into the 2011-12 Dallas Mavericks.

One last shout out to Mavs Moneyball – during my temporary stint as a Mavs fan during the 2011 NBA Finals, one of the coolest things I read during that time was LJ Rotter's recap of the night following game 6 when she and some friends managed to join Mark Cuban and Mavericks players during their post-game celebration in Miami in a post aptly titled "The Single Greatest Night of My Life." Just revisited it and it still makes me jealous / is still awesome.

I'll be at the United Center tonight for my first game of the year (thank you ticket re-sellers). Have fun, be good, and go Bulls.