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Chicago Bulls vs. Dallas Mavericks game preview, lineups, injury report

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

[Thanks to kozzer for today's game preview -yfbb]

Dallas Mavericks (13-5 / 6-3 Away)
@
Chicago Bulls (11-6 / 2-3 Home)

7pm / CSN Chicago

Matchups

Dallas Pos Chicago
Tyson Chandler C Pau Gasol
Dirk Nowitzki PF Joakim Noah
Chandler Parsons SF Mike Dunleavey
Monta Ellis SG Jimmy Butler
Jameer Nelson PG Derrick Rose
Notable Reserves:
Brandan Wright (PF/C) Nikola Mirotic (PF)
Devin Harris (PG) Aaron Brooks (PG)
JJ Barea (PG) Taj Gibson (PF) – out?
Al-Farouq Aminu (SF)


Overview

After surviving the annual Circus Trip with a 4-3 record while suffering no long-term significant injuries (take your time, Taj!), the Bulls will host the offensively elite Dallas Mavericks. The first game back from a long road trip can sometimes be a letdown for the home team, and the Bulls (a poor 2-3 at home so far) will need to bring the effort – especially on the glass – if they want to have a chance to win this game.

What Dallas brings

At this point in the young season, the Mavericks are on pace to have the most efficient offense in NBA history, posting an offensive rating of 115.8 (which is just ahead of both the ’91 & ’96 Bulls). However, Dallas’ offense has not been super effective against better defensive teams (they only scored 87 @ Portland, 92 @ Houston, 100 vs Indy & @ San Antonio), and they’ve really fattened up against the worst defenses (123 vs Philly, 131 vs Minnesota, 140(!) vs the Lakers) which is perhaps making their offense look better than it really is.

Even so, it’s clear that they’re elite offensively, and they’ve accomplished this by going away from frequent (Dirk) post-ups of years past and instead are running constant and successive pick-and-rolls, often switching sides of the floor several times within a single possession. This approach of switching sides serves to confuse defenses that like to overload the strong side (such as Thibs’), and many times it’s difficult to tell which is the strong side and which is the weak side which affects help assignments. The Mavs will even do things to stay in constant motion like simply having two perimeter players just trade spots on the floor, which occupies their defenders, ever so slightly delaying their help defense. Indeed, they are rarely even calling plays this year, rather letting the possession naturally determine what action their offense takes. As Tyson Chandler recently said, "the ball dictates the shot, not the person."

All of this ball-sharing has meant copious amounts of open looks on the perimeter, or a breakdown by the defense which allows Tyson Chandler or Brandan Wright (27.6 PER!) to get right to the rim for tons of dunks, which is a big reason why they’re shooting 69% and 74% respectively from the floor. And importantly, even with all the passing, they rarely turn the ball over. At this point in his career, with Carlisle keeping him fresh, Nowitzki is content to watch his teammates perform the pick-and-rolls while perched on the perimeter (and effectively using space to create an open shot opportunity for himself). He’s still a fantastic and frequent screen setter who has been fading to the outside which creates space for the superior interior passing of his teammates. This is allowing for their increased looks at the rim, as well as tons of corner 3’s due to defenses collapsing down to the basket to contest Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright. Nowitzki’s shooting remains as deadly as ever, now serving as means to create extra space for the Mavericks’ slate of average 3-point shooters.

What We’ll See

What it all comes down to, as we’re watching the game, is that you’ll see lots of Dallas pick-and-rolls, driving and kicking, swinging the ball from side-to-side, keeping the Bulls’ defense reacting and hoping that all the movement will create a breakdown in the defense to be exploited by getting to the rim or a wide-open look from the 3. There will probably lots of fast break possessions, especially for Dallas, and for the Bulls as well if Rose is feeling spry.

In terms of personnel, the Bulls match up very well against the Mavericks and should be able to slow them down. An elite mobile big like Noah should mitigate Nowitzki’s spacing, and Gasol’s resurgent basket protection should be able to limit the Mavs’ inside looks, even if they won’t be able to completely eliminate them. Pau’s going to have to step up with the help defense when Rose inevitably gets screened off on some possessions, because we’ll likely see Noah dragged away from the basket by Nowitzki to keep the interior open for penetrators and passing. The speed and/or length on the Bulls’ defensive perimeter should force Dallas off of the 3 point line and into more long 2’s than they’d like, assuming they can fight through all of the screens.

On the other side of the ball, Dallas usually goes under screens and generally plays a very vanilla defense, probably because except for Tyson Chandler none of their primary rotation players are particularly good on defense. Rose should also have a relatively easy night on both ends, as long as he can stay with Nelson and Harris through all the screens. Brooks won’t be giving up length to his Dallas counterparts, which bodes well for him to be aggressive with the ball.

Key to the Game

The way to win this game is to dominate the glass. While Dallas is average on the offensive boards, they are the worst defensive rebounding team in the league so far this year. This is where Jimmy (and to some extent Derrick) can really do damage – they have nobody that can keep Butler off the offensive glass, and once he gets the ball down there it’s almost guaranteed that he’ll score or get fouled. Looking at who Dallas will have guard Jimmy – Ellis, Parsons, Harris, and to a lesser extent Aminu – I expect Jimmy to look like "Baby Mike" tonight, at least to the same level as we’ve seen recently.

Things to look for

  • Neil becoming confused with the two Chandlers; likely choosing Parsons to shit upon all game
  • Dallas running tons of pick-and-rolls from side to side, including between two perimeter players, as well as lots of dribble-drives, leading to lots of interior attempts & slam dunks, especially for Tyson Chandler and Brandan Wright, and a hopefully not too many Angry Thibs timeouts
  • Bulls countering Dallas’ offensive actions with aggressive help defense, more switching than usual, and contesting most 3pt shots while allowing some inside looks over/around Pau as Noah is dragged out to the perimeter by Nowitzki
  • Jimmy diving to the offensive boards and generally owning Ellis
  • Thibs keeping with the recent rotation of mixing bench guys in with the starters rather than "hockey-style" lineup changes
  • Nikola’s pump-fakes potentially matched up against Nowitzki – battle of the Euro stretch-4’s
  • Fast-paced game, but limited turnovers from both teams, as Dallas rarely forces or commits them