The Mavs have played some really good teams this season, but the Bulls might be the most star-studded. The biggest question about tonight’s game: Which team has the most All-Stars?
Pau Gasol played for a different team last season and Derrick Rose hardly played at all. But they’re both with the Bulls this season, and they’ve joined Defensive POY Joakim Noah and emerging star Jimmy Butler on a loaded team that’s capable of beating just about anyone in the league.
The Bulls match the Mavs’ depth perhaps more than any other opponent Dallas has faced this season except for the Spurs on opening night. This is going to be a 48-minute battle that will push every player at every position to the limit. That’s what the Bulls want to do with their physical style of defense. We’ll see if the Mavs can overcome the beast and snag another all-important road win.
|Mavs Offense||Bulls Defense|
|Points/100 poss.||113.8 (1)||101.3 (9)|
|eFG%||53.4 (3)||47.4 (6)|
|TOV%||11.7 (2)||13.7 (T-23)|
|Off/Def Reb%||25.8 (16)||73.5 (T-21)|
|FT/FGA||.276 (18)||.270 (11)|
This is truly a battle of an unstoppable force versus an immovable object. There hasn’t been a defensive unit more consistent than the Chicago Bulls for the last half-decade. The Bulls haven’t finished outside the top-10 in defensive rating since the end of the 2010 season, per Basketball-Reference. The Mavericks, on the other hand, have rolled out an elite offense practically every season since Rick Carlisle took over as head coach. Carlisle and his adversary tonight, Tom Thibodeau, are considered two masterminds of the game, though on opposite ends of the floor.
The matchup to watch tonight is Butler against Monta Ellis. The 6′ 7″ Butler is one of the league’s best two-way players at the shooting guard position, and he’s got the length to combat Monta’s quickness. Ellis averaged 21.0 points per game against the Bulls last season and has generally performed well against the club since 2010-11, but Butler has just been playing out of his mind lately. The chess match between those two is going to be one to watch.
Of course, the hallmark of this Bulls defense is that it defends as a true unit. Thibodeau made the “ice” concept famous in the NBA, a style of pick-and-roll defense designed to force all sideline pick-and-rolls back toward the sideline. The solution to this scheme is to roll out big men who can shoot the ball, and fortunately the Mavs have plenty, starting with Dirk Nowitzki. In his last three games against Chicago, Dirk has hit 10-of-15 from deep. If the matchup favors the Mavericks, Chandler Parsons could also be used as the screener. He too is a threat as a popping big man, more so than Brandan Wright or Tyson Chandler. The “ice” defense aims to eliminate cross-court passing, a huge element of the Mavs’ offense. If Dallas can find creative ways to swing the ball, the Mavs have to like their chances. If only it was that easy against terrific defenses.
Nowitzki will be defended by newcomer Pau Gasol, who’s surprisingly blocking 2.1 shots per game. Known more for his offensive abilities, he’s been an unexpected force on the defensive side of the ball this season. Gasol’s defensive rating of 100 matches his career-high mark set in 2005-06 and he’s allowing opponents to hit just 45.9 percent of their shots at the rim this season, per SportVU. He’s become the rim protector on the team, while his teammate Noah, also a strong defender, specializes in other areas.
|Mavs Defense||Bulls Offense|
|Points/100 poss.||102.9 (13)||105.1 (12)|
|eFG%||50.9 (T-22)||50.3 (T-10)|
|TOV%||18.7 (1)||15.1 (13)|
|Off/Def Reb%||70.4 (30)||24.6 (20)|
|FT/FGA||.276 (T-17)||.345 (3)|
This is the first season in recent years in which the Bulls have rolled out an offense on the same level as the defense. Led by Butler and Gasol, the Bulls’ offense has stampeded through the Eastern Conference this season. The club doesn’t shoot especially well from any area on the floor except for the corners, where shooters convert on 44.4 percent of their attempts, per Basketball-Reference. Four regular rotation players hit at least 39.5 percent of their total three-point attempts, making Chicago a legitimate dual-threat team. The Bulls can beat you inside and they can beat you outside.
The Mavs have dodged a bullet as the Bulls will be playing without Taj Gibson, the club’s do-it-all sixth man. Gibson is scoring 12.4 points in 29.0 minutes per game this season and is shooting a blistering 54.6 percent from the field, a career-high clip. That means we’ll see plenty of Nikola Mirotic, a highly touted international rookie who’s scoring 6.6 points per game and hitting nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts. Thibodeau has also been known to rely on his starters, which means we could very well see huge minutes for Gasol tonight.
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Derrick Rose, who took home MVP honors during the Mavs’ title run in 2011. Rose has missed most of the last two seasons due to injury and has appeared in just nine games this season, but he’s good to go tonight. He’s scoring just 16.1 points per game but his minutes are down from his career average, as he’s left a couple games early. Per 36 minutes, Rose leads the Bulls in scoring with 22.9 points. Add to that nearly seven free throw attempts and 6.5 assists and you have an All-Star-caliber point guard. Devin Harris and the point guards have a tough task tonight. The same holds true for Chandler on the inside, as well, for Rose is the type of player who makes extremely difficult shots look easy. You can defend him well and, when he’s at his best, he’ll still find ways to score. It’s a tough matchup for anyone.
Losing Gibson hurt Chicago’s depth greatly, and the Mavs fortunately have a deep roster behind the starters that are entirely capable of turning a game. But ultimately, this game is going to come down to quality. Who’ll have the better game: Ellis or Butler? Dirk or Gasol? Chandler or Noah? Then there are the X factors, Rose and Chandler Parsons. Whichever team wins more of those head-to-head battles will likely take this thing home. You hate to simplify such a complicated matchup to that degree, but that’s probably what it’s going to come down to tonight. If Dirk and the gang can move the ball as well as the Mavs are capable of moving it, Chicago won’t be able to keep up. But if Gasol and Butler combine for 40 points, as they have all season, and the Bulls can hold down Ellis on the perimeter, it’s going to be a tough task for Dallas this evening. Either way, this is shaping up to be maybe the best game of the year to this point for the Mavs. It’s a battle of All-Stars, depth, and coaching wits. What more could you ask for?