For the first time this season, the Mavericks have a losing record. Without Dirk, no one expected great things from the team, but they also didn't expect the mediocre effort, abysmal rebounding, and other woes that have followed the team so far.
Tonight, they face a team that is on a similar path. Like Dallas, Chicago is missing their superstar Derrick Rose, who is the cog that makes everything on the team work. All reports indicate he is on track to fully recover from the ACL tear suffered in the playoffs last year, but it will be another month or two before he hits the floor.
People insist that Chicago is not throwing away this season, but they had a controversial off-season where they choose to let many key pieces from last year go (Omer Asik, Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson, Ronnie Brewer) and went with a totally new (and cheaper!) bench. Bull fans still hope for a deep playoff run IF Rose can return healthy and effective sometime around February.
Meanwhile, the Bulls are just trying to survive until he returns. They still have a talented cast to go with their superstar despite the off-season losses, good enough to win some games here and there. At 6-7, Chicago is doing just fine -- plus, there's no shame in losing to OKC, Boston and LAC.
Without Rose in there, the team centers around center (pun definitely intended) Joakim Noah, who does a little bit of everything. His offensive game has improved dramatically, averaging 13 points a game and four assists a game. He's increased his range to 18-20 feet, but most of his points still come off the offensive glass as evidenced by his four offensive rebounds a game. Throw in great defense and shot-blocking ability, and it's obvious why he leads his team in PER.
Luol Deng is the team's ironman, scoring 17 points a game while averaging 41 minutes. Carlos Boozer and Richard Hamilton are both veterans who still have a few good years left in them. Kirk Hinrich's shot making ability has fallen off drastically, but he's still a good distributor at the point guard position.
The big disappointment for the Bulls has been Taj Gibson, who got a big contract last year but has gotten off to a slow start this season. He's averaging just 6.6 points and 4.5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game, and hasn't looked comfortable with the new bench players around him.
The Mavericks' biggest worry headed into this game, as with most nights, is that they might get blasted on the offensive glass. They've shown no consistent ability to box out defensively this season, and Chicago grabs the sixth most offensive boards in the league. Noah is the leader, but both Boozer and Deng average over two a game as well.
An area that Dallas should be able to take advantage is three point shooting. Chicago shoots under 30% as a team and their second best shooter, Marco Bellinelli, registered four minutes then a DNP in the last two games. The key defenders for the Bulls play in the front court, so expect the Dallas guards to get some solid looks matched up against Rip Hamilton, Hinrich, and Nate Robinson.
It's hard to see the Mavericks get out of the rut their in on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, which is precisely why I'm predicted that they will beat Chicago. Nothing this team does makes any sense, so let's see that trend continue. I'll also predict a bounce-back game for O.J. Mayo -- he won't score 30 points, but he'll shoot efficiently and tally up 5+ assists.