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3 things to watch for as the Mavericks face the Bulls

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The Mavericks will look to even their record at 3-3.

Dallas Mavericks v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

This is the game Dallas Mavericks must win if they want to prove they are turning things around following a poor start. One good win, like the one against Miami on Friday, is not enough to prove that they belong in the upper tier of the Western Conference. Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was even more direct in his post-game interview on Friday:

At 2-3, we’re probably at 12th or 13th place in the west, so we haven’t done sh*t.

Thus far, the Mavericks are either blowing out their opponents (Clippers, Heat) or getting blown out themselves (Lakers, Hornets). Their only close game was an opening night loss against the Suns. Winning two games in a row is the next step for Dallas.

Here are the things we’ll be looking for when the Mavericks play the Chicago Bulls (2-4) on Sunday:

The defense will be key to Mavericks first two-game winning streak

Dallas hasn’t played two consecutive good games this season. They need to show their effort against Miami was not a fluke, and come out of the gate strong against the Bulls. The Mavericks' offense has been inconsistent so far, and in a change from last season it is the defense that is keeping them competitive.

The Dallas defense currently ranks ninth in the league which is good, but the effort on defense has been up and down as well. The Mavericks allowed only 81.4 points per 100 possessions in their win against the Clippers, and 84.5 per 100 possessions when they beat Miami. Even in their loss against the Suns, it was Mavericks defense that kept them close until the end. However, the problem was that each of their good defensive efforts was followed up by a terrible one in the following game. The Mavericks allowed 136.8 points per 100 possessions against the Lakers and 123.2 against the Hornets. Chicago has the 23rd ranked offense, but as we’ve seen against the Hornets, Dallas can’t take any opponents lightly.

The Mavericks need to hit their open shots

Dallas' offense hasn’t been good so far this season, at least not by the standard of last season. The Maverick offense ranks 15th in the league, scoring 109.9 points per 100 possessions. This is way down from their lead leading 116.9 points per 100 possessions in 2019-20.

Yes, Dallas is missing a key cog in their offense in Kristaps Porzingis, and their star Luka Dončić is struggling with his shooting. Yet, the offense is still producing a lot of open looks and good shots. The Mavericks are just not making them. After a great shooting in the preseason, Josh Richardson is shooting 31.0% from beyond the arc. Dorian Finney-Smith is at 29.6%. They are key players in the starting lineup and both average more than five three-point field goal attempts per game. Per NBA stats 46.4% of Richardson’s three-point shots were open or wide open and that percentage is even higher for Finney-Smith at 65%. Once their open shots will go in at a higher rate, the Dallas offense will be much more efficient.

Bulls guards, their bench, and Otto Porter Jr.

The Bulls have not had a great start to the season. They are 2-4 and their only two wins were against the Washington Wizards (1-5). The Bulls also had a lot of COVID-19 related issues. Currently, Chandler Hutchison is out after a positive COVID-19 test. Lauri Markkanen, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Tomas Satoransky also missed games while under the league’s health and safety protocols. They are currently in NBA health and safety protocols because of close contact.

Additionally, the Bulls’ offense doesn’t look great, Chicago is 23rd in the league at 104.0 points per 100 possessions. The offense is centered around the two guards, Zach LaVine and Coby White. LaVine’s numbers look OK, averaging 22.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 3.5 assists at 43.7% from the field. He is a high usage player (30.5% usage) that primarily looks for his own shot. Coby White is a similar high-usage guard, who is shooting just 34.9% from the floor this season. Chicago likes to run dribble handoff actions to get their guards downhill attacking the basket. LaVine and White are not effective playmakers, so their offense often looks stagnant with possessions ending on isolation plays.

The Bulls play a young frontcourt combo of Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr., and rookie Patrick Williams. Their young starting five has been inconsistent, so Chicago often relies on their bench player in important moments. They have a good veteran bench rotation in Otto Porter Jr., Thaddeus Young, Tomas Satoransky, and Garrett Temple. Especially Porter Jr. has been playing well of the bench, averaging 14.5 ppg and shooting 43.3% from beyond the three-point line. Porter Jr. will be a free agent after this season and is a 3-and-D player that could be interesting for the Mavericks.

How to watch

The game tips off at 7 pm on Sunday and can be watched on Fox Southwest or NBA League Pass.