Chicago has won three in a row and just ended the Miami Heat's 27-game winning streak, so the Bulls have plenty of momentum at their backs. However, Dallas is not to be counted out.
The Mavs have gone 10-5 in March and sit just a game and a half behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the final spot in the playoffs, Defeating a tough defensive Bulls team would provide them with a great boost as the regular season winds down. Of course, that all depends on multiple factors.
Not only must Dallas get past Chicago's excellent defense, but its own defensive effort must be in top form. The Mavericks rank 27th in points allowed, and that could provide the Bulls' weak scoring attack with enough of an opening to run the table on both ends of the floor.
Fans should thus prepare themselves for what could be a great clash of styles from start to finish, as each team is looking to end its regular season on a positive note.
Time: Saturday, March 30, 2 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Chicago, Fox Sports Southwest
Records: Chicago Bulls (39-31) vs. Dallas Mavericks (35-37)
Injuries: Derrick Rose (knee, day-to-day), Joakim Noah (foot, day-to-day), Marco Belinelli (abdomen, day-to-day), Rip Hamilton (back, out), Jared Cunningham (knee, out), Roddy Beaubois (hand, out), via ESPN
Key Storyline: Can Mavs Inch Closer to Playoff Berth?
The Bulls have already defeated Dallas once this season, on Nov. 28, but that was at the United Center. Thanks to 22 points from Luol Deng, Chicago out-shot and out-rebounded Dallas en route to a 101-78 victory.
The scene has now changed. Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki back in the lineup, and the veteran big man has continued to be the unquestioned leader of the team's offense. Dallas ranks seventh in points per game with 101.4, compared to 29th-ranked Chicago at 92.9, so head coach Rick Carlisle could easily use his fast-paced offense to just overwhelm short-handed Chicago.
Moreover, a win puts Dallas just one game under .500 and depending on how the Lakers fare against the Sacramento Kings later that night, closer to a playoff berth. With Chicago already guaranteed a playoff spot, there's always the chance that some players will be on autopilot.
Regardless of that, Dallas is in a prime position to improve its playoff hopes and with the home crowd cheering them on, there's every possibility that they could take a step forward.
Key Matchup: Carlos Boozer vs. Dirk Nowitzki
If the Bulls can slow down Dirk Nowitzki, that gives them a key advantage. However, it's not going to be easy.
Despite missing the first weeks of the season due to knee surgery, the veteran has posted 17 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He's slowed down due to being 34 years old, but those numbers are still impressive, especially since he has shot 47 percent from the field and 42 percent from long range.
Nowitzki has been even better over his last five games, averaging 21.8 points and seven rebounds over that stretch while also shooting 57 percent from the field.
Naturally, this means that Chicago's Carlos Boozer is definitely going to have his hands full. He is smaller than the 7'0", 245-pound Nowitzki, standing just 6'9", 266 pounds, and is not as much of a scoring threat.
This is because since signing a max contract with Chicago back in 2010, Boozer has not been the double-double machine he was with the Utah Jazz. His marks of 15.8 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season are not bad by any means, but disappointing compared to what he used to be.
Fortunately, the former Blue Devil has been slightly better over his last five games. Over that stretch, he has posted 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, shooting 53 percent from the field.
All that he really needs to do is stick to Nowitzki from start to finish, not allowing him any opportunities in the paint, or in the mid-range. Losing his scoring could be enough to take the wind out of Dallas' sails, and that instantly puts the Mavericks in a position that makes a win tough.
So long as Boozer can balance his interior game with some solid scoring, the Bulls can easily ride their defense to another big victory. If not, then this game will definitely come down to the wire.
X-Factor: Jimmy Butler
With injuries ravaging the backcourt, Butler has recently seen his minutes extended. As a result, he has continued to prove just why he should be a regular member of the rotation going forward.
Though he has posted just 7.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game this season, Butler has been better over his last five games. Over that stretch, he is averaging 13.4 points and 5.8 boards while shooting 51 percent from the field and an eye-popping 63 percent from long range.
With a keen knack for driving the lane and also some thunderous dunking abilities, one can see why the Bulls like this young man so much.
Butler needs to be just as electrifying against Dallas, maybe even more because it's a road game. This means doing what he's been doing all season long, as well as using his ever-improving jumper when necessary.
A good game from him means a Bulls victory, while a bad one means something not at all fun.
Predicted Starting Lineups:
PG: Kirk Hinrich
SG: Jimmy Butler
SF: Luol Deng
PF: Carlos Boozer
C: Nazr Mohammed
PG: Mike James
SG: O.J. Mayo
SF: Shawn Marion
PF: Dirk Nowitzki
C: Brandan Wright
Believe it or not, this game is going to come down to the wire. Both teams will far exceed what was expected of them going into the match, with the Mavericks playing great defense and the Bulls' scoring attack being more effective than usual.
Boozer and Nowitzki will battle to a stalemate, with each man registering a double-double and showing they are far from washed up, aging veterans. The fans will eat it all up along with the rest of the game.
Dallas will also be helped by lights-out shooting from O.J. Mayo, while Luol Deng leads the Bulls in scoring once again.
But with just a couple of minutes left, it's all going to come down to Jimmy Butler. After a great game of slashing to the hoop and throwing down a great dunk, maybe even two, he will get the ball when wide open in three-point land. Of course, his shot will ice the game and give the Bulls a hard-fought victory.
The Mavericks will be proud of themselves after putting up a great effort, but nothing's going to be able to take away the sting of this loss now that the playoffs are so close.
Chicago Bulls 107, Dallas Mavericks 103
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