The Chicago Bulls' collective confidence was recently shattered, but there's no time to throw a pity party. Just two days after blowing a 27-point lead against the Milwaukee Bucks, they play the Dallas Mavericks at home Wednesday.
Like Chicago, Dallas has been without its star player all season. Star forward Dirk Nowitzki had knee surgery in October and isn't expected back until at least mid-December.
This puts the Mavericks at a great disadvantage, but doesn't mean they should automatically be written off. The team has still pulled off some big wins this season, from beating the Los Angeles Lakers on opening night to a close victory against the New York Knicks on November 21. Also, let's not forget that they are just two seasons removed from winning an NBA championship.
Chicago hasn't won any titles since 1998, but it has been the best team in the league each of the past two seasons thanks to star point man Derrick Rose. The Bulls have visibly struggled in his absence, but have done anything but flat-out give up.
This makes it all the more important that they play a tough game against Dallas and defend their home court.
Time: Wednesday, November 28, 8 p.m. EST
TV: CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Southwest
Records: Dallas Mavericks (7-8) vs. Chicago Bulls (6-7)
Betting Lines: Bulls -6 (according to vegasinsider.com)
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee, out), Dirk Nowitzki (knee, out), O.J. Mayo (ankle, expected to play)
Key Storyline: Bulls Look to Get Back to .500 Following Heartbreaking Loss
Chicago hasn't played horribly this season, even with Derrick Rose continuing to recover from ACL surgery. The team is just 6-7 and is actually tied for second place in the Central Division. The Bulls stand just 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks, who made a great comeback before defeating them Monday night.
The loss put the Bulls below .500 and is the exact reason why they need to shake off the hurt from that game to focus on tonight's. The Mavericks have performed horribly on the road this season, going just 2-5. Chicago has gone 3-4 at home, but has the overall depth and experience to defeat this young squad.
Of course, Dallas has its own agenda entering this game. The Mavs have lost two straight and three of their last four. As it would for Chicago, a win would put the Mavericks back at .500 for the season.
A win isn't going to come easy for either team. Chicago is coached by longtime Knicks and Boston Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau, who runs a tough defensive system he learned while with both teams. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, on the other hand, runs something of a modified run-and-gun offense that also features a fine low-post game.
It's certainly going to be a clash of styles, and the players will have to adjust accordingly.
Key Matchup: Chris Kaman vs. Joakim Noah
Tonight, we have a tale of two centers. Bulls big man Joakim Noah has been great this season, averaging 13.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game. Dallas' Chris Kaman, has been solid as well, averaging 14.2 points, seven rebounds and 1.1 blocks.
Both men play a fine defensive game, but Kaman has something of an advantage. Not only is he more experienced than Noah, but he is also a stronger offensive player. For his career, he has averaged 12 points per game compared to Noah's nine.
Granted, Noah's offensive game is coming into its own this season, but is still developing. Kaman has shown throughout his career that he can be a strong scorer both in the paint and on the perimeter, and will have an advantage tonight in that department.
Defensively, the two could not be more similar. Both players have incredible length and use it to play solid defense, and they'll be going toe to toe all night long as they fight for every loose ball that comes their way.
Noah has the tenacity, but Kaman has the experience. He may have a reputation as soft, but he's going to do all he can to win this battle and help bring in the win for Dallas.
X-Factor: Richard Hamilton
One of the players who has stepped up in Rose's absence is 2-guard Richard Hamilton, who only appeared in 28 games last year due to injuries. He has yet to miss a game this season and has been one of Chicago's top scoring options.
In 13 games, Hamilton is averaging 14.5 points and shooting 37.5 percent from three-point range. Over his last five games, he is averaging 17 points and has made 43 percent of his three-pointers. One of these games includes a 30-point effort in Chicago's now-infamous loss to Milwaukee.
Hamilton simply must keep it up tonight. He has a weak defender guarding him in O.J. Mayo, so there's no reason to believe that he won't be able to score a good number of points. With Luol Deng and the rest of his teammates contributing as necessary, Hamilton's scoring touch and knack for hitting threes should keep Chicago in the game from start to finish.
That is, unless he has a bad night, which could sink the Bulls.
I've made a lot of predictions for games this season, but this one might be the toughest to call. Dallas has so much youth and a strong desire to win, whereas the Bulls have plenty of experience to go with that same passion. Throw in how both teams have played without their star, and it doesn't get any easier.
Still, based on how well they've performed as a unit over the past couple of years, the Bulls have the clear advantage here. Their current starters have been playing together longer than those of the Mavericks, and they have still played some good basketball even without Rose.
This game will see another solid scoring effort from Richard Hamilton. Joakim Noah may not score as many points as Chris Kaman, but he'll easily win the defensive battle with some help from Carlos Boozer.
Who will win?
O.J. Mayo will keep Dallas in the game as he gets back to his high-scoring ways, and he'll have some help from veteran Vince Carter, not to mention rookie Jae Crowder. Sadly, it just won't be enough by the final buzzer.
Dallas will see its fair share of scoring runs and leads, but Chicago will come charging back each time. It may take a while for the momentum to fully shift to one side, but the Bulls will gut it out and come away with a victory that brings their confidence back up to where it should be.
Chicago Bulls 98, Dallas Mavericks 94