Fans of 90’s era basketball, and more specifically the league’s most dominant franchise of the decade, have been in for a quarantine treat the last two weeks as ESPN has slowly released episodes in its 10-part documentary series on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. “The Last Dance”, airing Sunday nights over five weeks, focuses in on the 1997-98 season — the last ride of an iconic and somewhat dramatic dynasty.
And that got us thinking: what would the Chicago Bulls, in Michael Jordan’s final MVP season look like against the Dallas Mavericks in Dirk Nowitzki’s MVP year?
We’re back with another round of Mavericks Simulator. If you missed the first two parts of our series, read up on those here:
Who do you got?
This poll is closed
2007 Dallas Mavericks
1998 Chicago Bulls
Remember this is all ran by Whatifsports.com: a simulation site that allows you to toy with all your hypothetical sports dreams. I set the rotation as best as I could and ran the simulation just one time, which is what I’ve done for the two previous games as well.
Dallas Mavericks (67-15)
- Finished the season 67-15, the best regular season record in franchise history. They started the season 0-4...so...67-11 the rest of the way.
- Second best offense and fifth best defense, with the second Overall Net Rating in the league. (+7.6 Net Rating, according to NBA.com)
- Dirk Nowitzki averaged 25 points, nine rebounds and three assists while also entering the 50-40-90 club (he went 50-42-90).
- Dirk Nowitzki received 83 first place votes for MVP, among 129 voters (Steve Nash came in second). Dirk was also an All-NBA First Team selection.
- While the Mavericks were the number one seed out of the Western Conference, they became the third team in NBA history to be eliminated in the playoffs be the eight seed (they were eliminated by the Golden State Warriors in six games).
Chicago Bulls (62-20)
- Started the season 12-9 before finding their footing. They were without Scottie Pippen for the first 38 games of the season, as he recovered from surgery.
- Had the ninth best offense and third best defense in the league
- Michael Jordan averaged 29 points, six rebounds, 3.5 assists, and two steals, winning his fifth and final MVP award (received 92 of the 116 first place votes). Jordan was All-NBA First Team (Pippen was on Third Team), as well as All-Defensive First Team (Pippen was also on First Team).
- Went 15-6 through the playoffs, en route to defeating the Utah Jazz in six games and completing their second three-peat of the decade.
- As of now, three Hall of Fame players (Jordan, Pippen, and Dennis Rodman) and a Hall of Fame coach in Phil Jackson.
*Lost to the Dallas Mavericks 104-97 in overtime on March 12, 1998, before going on a 13-game win streak. The Mavericks were led by Michael Finley’s 32 points and eight rebounds and Cedric Ceballos’ 25 points and 13 rebounds.
There are two important things to note here: while the Dallas Mavericks had one of the worst postseason choke jobs in league history, they were still a regular season juggernaut, at one point rattling off a 52-4 run. Second, the simulation assumes full health and postseason rotations — that is to say, Scottie Pippen is considered healthy and playing normal minutes.
The Chicago Bulls, as we’re so freshly reminded, were iconic but running on fumes. There’s a reason we rarely see teams three-peat, let alone twice in the span of eight seasons.
And on this night the Mavericks use their home court advantage to their favor (the Bulls that season were good if not fine on the road with a 25-16 record). It’s a tightly contested defensive battle, where neither team can take much of a lead, until the second quarter when the Mavericks outscore the Bulls 23-15 and take a nine point lead at half.
Jordan is mostly contained all things considered, scoring 20 points and grabbing 10 boards. Pippen notched 14 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and the soon-to-be-for-just-the-blink-of-an-eye Dallas Maverick Dennis Rodman had just two points but grabbed 15 rebounds. Toni Kukoc also added 15 points.
Dirk Nowitzki, who would have to be the Bulls’ primary focus, posted 22 points and 13 rebounds. Jason Terry managed 14 points and seven assists. But it was Josh Howard who made the difference with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Mavericks win 99-90
Alright, let’s everyone take a deep breath.
As stated above, this Chicago Bulls team was undoubtedly iconic but also reaching its end. Off-court issues and disagreements with the front office were bleeding onto the floor for this Bulls squad. It’s a testament to their championship drive that they held it together long enough to grab their sixth title.
The Dallas Mavericks were sound on both ends of the floor, and were a team on a mission after the trophy was ripped from their hands the previous summer. Dirk and Howard were both at or near the height of their powers, with Jason Terry and Jerry Stackhouse in support. They played their style, slowing the game down and punishing teams on both ends.
These teams played at an almost identical pace (89.5 for the Mavericks, 89 for the Bulls), both slow and deliberate. But the Mavericks offense (in its time) was more effective. Could Toni Kukoc, all his strengths considered, disrupt an MVP-level Dirk Nowitzki?
And how much does wear and tear on the Bulls factor here? The average age of their top seven players in the rotation: 32.2 years old. The Mavericks? 28.2 years old. This could be the case of a team in its prime catching the iconic vets at the right moment.
In a series setting could the Dallas Mavericks really shut down a Michael Jordan-led Bulls squad?
*A deep long sigh* No, no, probably not.
While the Mavericks were tops defensively, how does Jason Terry and Josh Howard manage to slow down Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? That nearly seems laughable out of context. The Mavericks had issues in the 2007 postseason by going small and trying to become something they weren’t. They’d likely try to stay big here against the Bulls, but even still. This is without a doubt a tall task.
The biggest surprise here though is the game Howard puts up. It’s likely that Pippen would take the task of covering him. And Howard is going to post 24 points and grab 13 boards against perhaps the best wing defender in league history? Yes, apparently so.
This match-up remains absolutely fascinating. The Mavericks were a regular season powerhouse that caved to postseason pressure; while the Bulls, by their standards, were just holding things together to get to the postseason where their winning nature could fully form. Wouldn’t it be nice, just for one night, to see MVP-Dirk go to battle against this iconic team, and completely dismantle a dynasty? Sign me up.