The Dallas Mavericks (7-3) make a visit Wednesday night to the new-look Chicago Bulls (7-3), who currently find themselves tied for second in the Eastern conference. A team that made a lot of waves over the offseason with signings of Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso, the Bulls have a fresh look and it’s already paying dividends. They’ve notched wins against the Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, and just recently blew out the Brooklyn Nets.
It has been well covered the conundrum of the Mavericks. They’ve squeaked out several close wins, and their losses have been sizable. But still they are 7-3 through the first 10 games, and found themselves tied with the Jazz for second place in the West going into Tuesday night’s play.
Here is what we’ll be watching for from Chicago:
Facing the top tier
It is too early to declare the Chicago Bulls an elite opponent. Like a good team does, they wracked up wins against low-level opponents early in their schedule. But as it is mentioned above, the Bulls have also secured wins against legitimate contending talent — something the Mavericks have yet to do (unless you consider the Celtics a contender).
In fact the Mavericks’ three losses have come at the hands of teams considered contenders this season. Since the Atlanta Hawks dominated the Mavericks on opening night they have had a rough go of things. But the other two losses are against teams currently in the top eight in net rating: the Denver Nuggets (eighth) and Miami Heat (third).
The Mavericks are certainly improving and finding some rhythm, even if it hasn’t been consistent. But have they grown enough to threaten a legitimate opponent? The Bulls — seventh in offensive rating, fourth in defensive rating, and fifth overall — will provide another measuring stick for where the Mavericks actually are.
Taking care of the ball
Both teams have taken care of the ball this season, compared to the rest of the league. The Bulls are first in the NBA, with just 12.5 turnovers per game. The Mavericks are averaging 13.4 per game, good for fifth in the league.
On the flipside, the Mavericks aren’t forcing turnovers at the same rate the Bulls are. The Bulls’ opponent turnover percentage of 14.7 (sixth), while the Mavericks are 18th at 12.5-percent. It is worth noting that the Mavericks are forcing nearly a full turnover more per game in wins, and the Bulls force 2.5 more turnovers in wins.
With how tightly contested most Mavericks games have been this season, those turnover margins may be a something worth monitoring as the game progresses.
Luka’s production this season has been up and down. He has scored 23 or more points in five straight games, and the Mavericks have gone 4-1 in that stretch. But he has also had 15 turnovers to 17 assists in his last three games.
It has been obvious, especially in the second half, that if Luka Doncic is the only ballhandler on the floor — that is to say, playing without Jalen Brunson — opponents are pushing for high traps to force Doncic into a tough play off the dribble, or to get the ball out of his hands. The Mavericks have been good at counteracting this with Brunson attacking, or even resorting to Kristaps Porzingis as a release valve at the nail. But both options has left Doncic tired and out of rhythm.
The Bulls will be able to throw a handful of defenders at Doncic Wednesday night, including pesky Alex Caruso. I’d expect a few others — Lonzo Ball, Derrick Jones Jr., or maybe even DeMar DeRozan — to all take turns making Doncic uncomfortable. Jason Kidd will have to find ways to solve that, or Brunson may have to shoulder the load once again.
How to watch
Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. CT, and can be watching on Bally Sports Southwest locally, or NBA League Pass nationally.