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Bulls lose ugly game to Dallas 99-98

Despite a near triple-double from Butler, the Bulls could not beat the inferior Mavericks

Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Bulls remain consistently inconsistent. What else can you say after a one point loss at home to the lowly Dallas Mavericks. After rallying to beat the Grizzlies on the second night of a back to back, the Bulls did what they do best by playing down to their competition and losing a game that never should have even been close.

The Bulls got off to a hot start Tuesday against the Mavericks, but were unable to sustain the momentum. Robin Lopez was the only Bull able to effectively score in the first half. The center scored 14 points on 7/9 shooting in the first half in a variety of ways. Lopez went right at Dirk Nowitzki in the post, establishing deep position early in the shot clock and scoring easily on jump hooks. Lopez was in a groove with his mid-range jump shot, and finished a couple baskets after Jimmy Butler dropped the ball off after collapsing the defense with a drive.

Despite all the scoring from such an unlikely source, the Bulls found themselves in a seven point hole at half time. After leading through the first 12 minutes, Chicago’s second unit was completely unable to score or get stops in the second quarter. Rondo, Wade, McDermott, Portis and Felicio looked completely disjointed and overly reliant on Wade to create offense. Wade, who turned 35 on Tuesday, shot just 3/8 in the first half and was -15 in his 15 minutes of court time.

Wade did experience any birthday magic in the second half. He finished the game 8/21 from the field, 0/1 from three and 1/3 from the free throw line. There are nights where Wade is cooking from mid-range, and his inability to draw fouls and unwillingness to shoot threes are not an issue. Tonight was not one of those nights.

Jimmy Butler had a quiet first half but was much more aggressive down the stretch and did everything in his power to keep the Bulls in the game. Butler came within one rebound of a triple-double, scoring 24 points and dishing 12 assists.

Butler did not have a particularly great night shooting the ball, as Wes Matthews played spectacular defense on Jimmy all night. But Butler, as he’s always able to do when he’s struggling from the field, was relentless drawing contact on the way to the hoop. Butler shot 16 free throws in this game, and made 14 of them.

After the best game of his career, Doug McDermott regressed back to the mean and then crashed through it, back down into the abyss of outlier status. Doug shot 3/10 from the field and missed several wide open three point attempts. Dallas did a good job of contesting him in his floater game.

Despite his struggles, McDermott was still +6 for the night, showing that even when his shot isn’t falling, he still has value for this spaced starved offense.

Rajon Rondo played excellent defense in the third quarter. After a typical, lazy Rondo performance in the first half, Rondo was a man possessed during his stint in the third. The recently un-benched Rondo was picking up his man before half court and played with a level of intensity typically reserved for Thursday nights on TNT.

Despite the brief stretch of great defense, Rondo was still painful to watch in this game. He was 0/4 from the field and did not attempt a free throw. On two occasions he chose not to shoot a layup and attempt a low-percentage pass. Neither pass found its man.

But because of Doug’s off night and Rondo’s flash of defensive effort, Fred Hoiberg foolishly Rondo to play the first half of the last quarter. The Bulls offense predictably fell apart with the complete lack of space and the Bulls squandered an opportunity to pull away from the Mavericks after significantly outplaying them in the third quarter.

The Bulls really failed to execute on defense in this game, leaving Seth Curry wide open multiple times. Curry scored 18 points on 7/10 shooting.

Mirotic played a fine game in his return from illness. He played just 22 minutes and was behind just about everyone in the rotation to start the game, but he had a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter that really stuck out. With eight minutes left in the game, Niko slid around Dirk to steal an entry pass. Then, he hit a deep three off of an offensive rebound. Then on the next defensive possession he came down with a hard fought rebound and threw a great outlet pass that ended with Jimmy Butler shooting free throws. Mirotic played hard on defense all night, doing his best to slow down Harrison Barnes in isolation.

Niko did make one critical defensive error that cost the Bulls the game. After getting switched out onto Deron Williams with under 20 seconds to play, Mirotic got completely blown by. Dwyane Wade was forced to leave Wes Matthews alone on the wing to stop what would have been a layup for Barea, and of course Wes knocked down the wide open three after JJ kicked it out.

Fred Hoiberg called timeout to draw up a final play for the Bulls with 11 seconds left. What he said in that timeout, I’ll never know. The Bulls opted against having Doug set Jimmy a high screen, an action that the Bulls have had a ton of success with lately. Instead, Butler tried to isolate on Matthews, lost control of the ball with about three seconds left, and forced Wade into shooting an off balance jumper as time expired.

This was an ugly loss from the Bulls, but it was not a surprising one.