Chicago Bulls (13-25) at Dallas Mavericks (13-26)
7:30 p.m.; NBC Chicago Sports
Center Nerlens Noel remains sidelined with a thumb injury and the Mavericks expect him to return in early February. Point guard Seth Curry remains out indefinitely after getting diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left tibia in early October.
The Chicago Bulls injury report is clean besides the guys who have been out long term that we already know about.
It’s Dirk versus (maybe?) Baby Dirk tonight in Dallas.
Inevitably, any tall and white European player is going to garner comparisons to the great Dirk Nowitzki. Nobody has really lived up to the comparison, very few have even come close. But something feels different about Lauri Markkanen, who through 38 games has dazzled at times with his shooting and has flashed a high-release fadeaway vaguely reminiscent of the move that made the 39-year-old Nowitzki famous.
Somehow Nowitzki, who is the fourth-oldest player in the NBA right now, has found a way to stay productive in his 20th NBA season. He’s averaged 12.1 points per game on an efficient 46.6 percent from the field and still shoots the ball at a 41.9 percent clip from behind the 3-point line.
Nowitzki is a veteran leader on a rebuilding Mavericks team that has quietly been playing better basketball as of late. Prior to a 125-122 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night, the Mavericks strung together four-straight wins including wins against the Toronto Raptors and Oklahoma City Thunder during that stretch.
Picked at the start of the season to be serious contenders for the NBA’s worst record, the Mavericks have hurt their own tanking effort by winning 13 games and find themselves with only the NBA’s sixth-worst record.
Harrison Barnes leads the team with 18.4 points per game as he continues to thrive in a leading role with the Mavericks after playing second fiddle to several teammates during his time with the Golden State Warriors. Dennis Smith Jr., a guy that many Bulls fans wanted Chicago to take in the 2017 draft, has had a polarizing rookie year. His box-score stats are good: 13.8 points per game, 4.1 rebounds per game, and 4.4 assists per game. But, his true shooting percentage is an ugly 47.2 percent on the season and he’s tenth on the Mavericks with a 11.9 player efficiency rating.
Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle has identified Markkanen and Nikola Mirotic as two Bulls players that his team needs to neutralize to have success in this game. Per NBA.com writer Earl K. Sneed.
These guys make shots. They’re both shooting over 40 (percent from three-point range) in the last five games. They’re the two leading scorers in recent games, and both guys are underrated playmakers. Mirotic can put the ball on the floor, and Markkanen can kill you on switches
[Markkanen] puts the ball on the floor well, and they play to the strengths of those guys. When you have stretch fours that have that kind of skill, that makes virtually everybody else on the floor better, because they have to be guarded at 30 feet. It opens up more space to operate for the other guys on the floor.
In a preseason matchup between the two teams, the Mavericks whipped the Bulls 118-71 behind 12 players who chipped in at least four points. It was after this game that the impending sense of doom began to resonate with Bulls fans and some people began to predict that the Bulls would win like ten games this season.
Of course, both teams are remarkably different now then they were in October. Both the Mavericks and the Bulls have overachieved their preseason expectations at the expense of their respective tanks.
A mere half game separates the two teams in the standings, as a game like this against a fellow tanker are the ones that the Bulls really need to lose in the interest of getting Luka Doncic, DeAndre Ayton, or Marvin Bagley III.