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3 things as the Mavericks look to dethrone another conference leading team in the Bulls

Clap if you believe in Dallas’ #2 net rating (last 5 games) or it will die like Tinkerbell.

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Chicago Bulls Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Dallas is just four days past vanquishing the West-leading Warriors. Only a Luka Doncic and Porzingis-less romp over the basement dwelling Rockets served as a palette cleanser before running into the current Eastern conference powerhouse, Chicago Bulls.

With Luka upgraded from “out” to “questionable” Saturday night, there’s some hope he’ll be able to go against the Bulls – a team on a nine game win streak of their own. Dallas will need everything they can muster against a Chicago squad dealing with precious little adversity at the moment, save for missing the basketball Swiss Army Knife, Alex Caruso.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 (Nov 2015)

The top grossing movie in November of 2015, aka the last time Dallas won six games in a row.

If they’re going to match that record, they have their work cut out for them, but the Mavs are a team that seem to be trending in the right direction this year. After struggling to get their differential in the positive for much of the early season, Dallas has been on a mini-tear. Since December 1st, Dallas has the league’s 6th best point differential, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s actually two spots higher than Chicago. Differential isn’t everything, though. Over the same stretch, Dallas has gone just 11-9 while the Bulls put up a 12-2 record. (Chicago has played much fewer games due to postponements, but haven’t lost since they’ve been back in playing shape.)

Bounce Back player of the month

Through the first couple months of the season, Tim Hardaway Jr and Reggie Bullock seemingly took turns sliding in and out of the starting lineup. THJ was the day one starter, and stayed there through November, but a slow shooting start to the year saw Bullock sliding into his role in the starting five. By December, Bullock had become a full time starter right up until health and safety protocols knocked both players out of the rotation entirely.

Well, so far the story in January is that neither are starters. They have one start between them in eight total games played in January. With how they’re playing, though, that may not last long. Hardaway’s 3 pointer has started to fall, sending his TS% numbers creeping towards a season best, and his sub-100 defensive rating fits in with Dallas’ new defensive identity. Bullock, for his part, has been on fire, shooting 46% from three in January, but on a smaller volume than THJ. He’s no slouch on D either, with a 94 defensive rating of his own. For a long time this year, it felt like a matter of time until one of them found their footing, but so far in the new year, the answer to which would step up first has been: why not both?

How to solve a problem like DeRozan

The player that divided MFFL twitter this offseason has silenced any potential doubters with the season he’s having in Chicago.

Fivethiryeight has an article that goes in depth on just how fantastic DeRozan’s entire season has been, but during the Bull’s current nine-game winning streak, he’s been positively cold blooded. Without his back-to-back game-winning buzzer beaters, the streak wouldn’t even be a streak at all. On top of that, his proficiency at not onle scoring in the midrange but drawing fouls while he’s doing it is going to be a true test on if this stretch of defense for the Mavericks is a mirage or the real deal. Not to mention the Bulls other weapons like Lonzo Ball, Nikola Vucevic, and the always electric Zach LaVine. To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best, and right now, the Bulls are playing like they’re the best team in the league.

How to watch

You can watch the broadcast on Bally Sports at 6:30 CST.