Dallas Mavericks

Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt

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USA TODAY

Bulls will try to slow down Mavericks' dynamic young backcourt

Through the opening four weeks of the NBA season, Dallas swingman Luka Doncic has emerged as one of the early favorites for the Rookie of the Year award. The 19-year-old from Slovenia is averaging 20.8 points on .489 shooting from the field and .395 from the 3 point line, along with 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.

We’ve been hearing about Doncic for a number of years because of his sensational play in the European leagues, but some scouts questioned whether his lack of elite athleticism would limit his ability to excel at the NBA level.

So far, Doncic has silenced all the doubters with his innate feel for the game and the joy and flair he exhibits on the court. Paired with high-flying second year guard Dennis Smith Jr., Doncic is giving basketball fans in Dallas hope for the future despite the team’s current 4-8 record.

The Mavs beat the Bulls in the third game of the season in Dallas, 115-109, led by 19 points and 6 assists from Doncic and 18 points and 16 rebounds from veteran center DeAndre Jordan. The Bulls got outrebounded 41-34 and fueled the Mavs’ transition game with 19 turnovers that led to 27 points for the home team.

Monday’s rematch could be even tougher since Dallas will have the services of talented small forward Harrison Barnes. Barnes, who missed last month’s game because of injury, is averaging 14.5 points and five rebounds a game.

Even though he’s only shooting .377 from the field right now, Barnes' presence gives the Mavericks another three-point shooting threat on a team that lives and dies on its proficiency behind the arc. Dallas currently is tied for fifth in the NBA with 33.9 three point attempts per game.

Wesley Matthews scored 20 points in the first meeting between the two teams and veteran guard J. J. Barea always seems to comes up with big games against the Bulls. Barea is coming off a 21 point performance against Oklahoma City Saturday where he knocked down three of four attempts from three-point range.

So, what will it take for the Bulls to earn a split in the season series Monday night?

1. DEFEND THE THREE-POINT LINE Like so many teams in the modern NBA, the Mavs won’t get discouraged by early misses from long range. They’ll keep jacking up threes throughout the game, with everyone on the roster except DeAndre Jordan given the green light. Doncic, Matthews, Barnes and Smith Jr. are all capable of big nights from three-point land, as are Barea, Maxi Kleber and Dorian Finney-Smith off the bench.

2. LIMIT TURNOVERS  Dallas wants to play at a fast pace with their young guards making plays in transition, so careless turnovers will make the Mavericks even more dangerous in the open court. Inserting Ryan Arcidiacono into the starting lineup improved the Bulls offensive efficiency early in their win over Cleveland on Saturday, but the challenge now is sustaining that efficiency over four quarters.

Shaq Harrison also gave the Bulls quality minutes at the point guard position against the Cavs, and he’ll use his size and aggressiveness to put some defensive pressure on the Mavs’ guards.

3. ANOTHER BIG NIGHT FOR ZACH  LaVine poured in 34 points in a losing effort in Dallas last month, and he’ll have a big advantage in quickness against either Doncic or Matthews. Dallas might go with Barnes on LaVine at times to challenge Zach’s outside shooting, but that might open up more opportunities to drive to the rim, where Jordan will be waiting.

LaVine has been very successful so far in challenging opposing centers on drives, and even though Jordan is an excellent shot blocker, don’t expect the NBA’s fourth leading scorer to back down.

With match-ups against Eastern Conference heavyweights Boston, Milwaukee and Toronto coming up, you know the Bulls would love to come away with a win over Dallas on Monday night.

We’ll have the game for you on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app, starting with Bulls Pregame Live from the United Center Atrium at 6:30. Neil Funk and Stacey King will have the play by play call at 7, followed by Bulls Postgame Live and Bulls Outsiders.

We hope you make your plans to join us Monday night.

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

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USA TODAY

NBA Buzz: It's never too early for a mock draft

The majority of the NBA universe is speculating about which players will be traded before the Feb. 8 deadline — but we already did that a couple days ago.

So, with the college basketball season past its halfway point, how about an early projection of what the 14 lottery teams might do with their first-round selections?

It's never too early for a mock draft.

1. Sacramento Kings: Marvin Bagley, PF, Duke. The Kings have been whiffing on lottery picks for most of the last decade, but taking Bagley would be a no-brainer. Sacramento is pretty thin up front after the DeMarcus Cousins trade last season, and Bagley looks like a multiple-time All Star with a variety of post moves and shooting range out to the 3-point line.

2. Atlanta Hawks: Deandre Ayton, C, Arizona. The Hawks have completely torn down the roster just a few short years after finishing with the best record in the East. They could use help at every position, but as we saw when the Bulls visited on Jan. 20, the Hawks have absolutely zero rim protection. Enter Ayton, an athletic seven-footer with an NBA-ready frame who should be able to anchor the Atlanta defense for years to come.

3. Orlando Magic: Trae Young, PG, Oklahoma. The Magic are another team in major need of a roster makeover, and after watching Elfrid Payton struggle for four seasons at the most important position in the modern game, isn't it time for an upgrade at the point guard position? Young leads the nation in both scoring and assists with Steph Curry-like shooting range. He would definitely be a big-gate attraction in the Magic Kingdom.

4. Dallas Mavericks: Luka Doncic, SG/SF, Slovenia. After riding international star Dirk Nowitzki to their only NBA title in 2011, how about bringing in the best player currently competing in Europe? Mark Cuban has never been afraid to take chances with personnel moves, and the highly skilled Doncic could turn out to be the best perimeter player in the draft. At the age of 18, his shooting and passing ability have drawn rave reviews from NBA scouts.

5. Memphis Grizzlies: Michael Porter, SF/PF, Missouri. Porter only played two minutes for the Tigers before leaving his first college game with what turned out to be a season-ending back injury. Still, scouts love his potential to play both forward spots at 6-foot-10, and if Porter decides to apply for the draft, it's hard to see him falling beyond this point.

6. Phoenix Suns: Collin Sexton, PG, Alabama. The Suns used to be drowning in point guards, but after trading Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe in recent years, their starter is now 5-foot-9 Chicago native Tyler Ulis. Sexton has tremendous scoring and ball-handling skills, showing up on the national radar after almost single-handedly beating Minnesota in a Thanksgiving tournament game when Alabama was forced to play with only three players for a good portion of the second half because of injuries and ejections.

7. Boston Celtics: Mohamed Bamba, C, Texas. The Celtics continue to stock up on young talent by virtue of all the great trades made by general manager Danny Ainge in recent years. Boston has just about every position but center covered, and now they get a chance to add a defensive anchor with a 7-foot-9 wingspan. The Celtics are poised for a long run as the beasts of the East.

8. Cleveland Cavaliers: Jaren Jackson Jr., PF, Michigan State. Power forward really isn't the Cavs' biggest position of need, but if LeBron James leaves in free agency, Cleveland could be heading into rebuild mode. Jackson has a soft shooting touch from 3-point range and is quick off his feet as a shot blocker. He could team up with Kevin Love on a new-look Cavs team post-LeBron.

9. Bulls: Mikal Bridges, SG/SF, Villanova. With four starting positions already covered (assuming Robin Lopez remains on the roster), the Bulls would have the luxury to add another shot creator on the wing. Bridges is tall enough to play the small forward spot and has a lightning-quick first step to get to the rim. He also is shooting 44 percent from the 3-point line and 50 percent overall. Adding Bridges to a lineup that features Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn would give the Bulls a young and versatile unit capable of playing with tremendous pace.

10. Charlotte Hornets: Kevin Knox, SF/PF, Kentucky. The Hornets could be ready to push the reset button after watching their veteran-laden team underachieve this season. Charlotte will be looking to trade the big contracts of Nic Batum, Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, which means they could be in need of a versatile frontcourt player with high-end scoring potential.

11. Utah Jazz: Wendell Carter, PF, Duke. With Derrick Favors likely to leave in free agency, the Jazz could definitely use a young power forward with Carter's ability to score inside. Carter has played in Bagley's massive shadow at Duke, but he figures to get more touches and shot attempts in an NBA offense. The Jazz have had pretty good luck drafting power forwards in the past with Karl Malone and Paul Millsap.

12. New York Knicks: Miles Bridges, SF, Michigan State. Bridges surprised a lot of NBA executives with his decision to return to Michigan State for his sophomore season considering he was a likely lottery pick last year. Bridges has become much more than just a spectacular dunker, adding a more consistent 3-point shot to his offensive arsenal. He could be an excellent fit in New York alongside Kristaps Porzingis and Enes Kanter.

13. Detroit Pistons: Hamidou Diallo, SG, Kentucky. Diallo hasn't really stood out on a young Kentucky team, but his physical tools are off the charts. He's a great finisher at the rim but needs more consistency with his outside shot. The Pistons could be in need of a shooting guard with Avery Bradley heading to free agency.

14. Denver Nuggets: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, PG, Kentucky. Another talented young athlete who gets kind of lost in a somewhat dysfunctional Kentucky offense. The Nuggets are ready to move on from the Emmanuel Mudiay experiment, though Gilgeous-Alexander offers similar concerns as a raw, underdeveloped prospect.

Around the Association

The big news this week involves the Milwaukee Bucks' decision to fire head coach Jason Kidd, who originally came to Milwaukee because of his longstanding friendship with Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry. Kidd signed a contract extension in 2016 and has a good relationship with All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

So why the change? Clearly, Kidd and his staff have not done the best job of developing the talent on the roster. The Bucks made an early season trade with the Suns to acquire point guard Eric Bledsoe, giving them another shot creator to go along with the Greek Freak. They've also loaded up on long athletes over the years, drafting frontcourt players John Henson, Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson, while also adding point guard Malcolm Brogdon, who was the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. And the Bucks starting lineup features a third proven scorer in swingman Khris Middleton, with Chicago native Jabari Parker expected back next month after completing his second ACL rehab.

With the Bucks scheduled to move into their new downtown arena next season, ownership is clearly not satisfied with a team hovering around .500 and in danger of missing the playoffs. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over for now, but the names of David Fizdale and Monty Williams have already surfaced as leading candidates to replace Kidd.

The San Antonio Spurs have long been held in high regard as the NBA's model organization. But now ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Michael C. Wright are reporting there's a growing disconnect with star forward Kawhi Leonard over the handling of his rehab from a quad injury. Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season because of the injury, and according to the report, he wasn't always on the same page with how the rehab process was done. Leonard is currently sidelined again because of the same injury, and the Spurs aren't sure when he'll be ready to play again.

Spurs general manager R.C. Buford denies there is any problem between the organization and its star player, but it's definitely a situation to watch considering Leonard can opt out of his current contract following the 2018-19 season. If the Bulls decided not be active in this summer's free-agent market, is there a chance they could make a run at one the NBA's top 10 players with a max offer in 2019?

While the Bucks have been one of the league's most disappointing teams this season, the Washington Wizards aren't far behind. Washington currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but that has more to do with the quality of the conference rather than the Wizards' outstanding play. Washington players recently decided to hold a clear-the-air meeting, but things didn't go exactly as planned.

According to the Washington Post, the meeting actually had a negative impact on team morale. John Wall said, "We had our team meeting. A couple guys took it the negative way, and it hurt our team. Instead of taking it a positive way like we did in the past and using it to build our team up, it kind of set us back a little bit."

Wizards leading scorer Bradley Beal added, "Honestly, it was probably — I won't say pointless, but we didn't accomplish what we needed to accomplish in that meeting. We just need to win ballgames. Like I told the guys, it doesn't matter how many meetings we have. We can have a meeting after every game, but if we're not mentally prepared for each game, we're going to lose again."

And that's exactly what happened. In the next game after the meeting, the Wizards got pounded by the Hornets, 133-109. Clearly, there's a lot of work to do before Washington can be considered a legitimate threat in the East.

Speaking of bad team meetings, how about Wojnarowski reporting the embattled Cavs got together before practice on Monday and actually questioned the legitimacy of Kevin Love's illness after he only played three minutes in a blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder? According to the report, Love had to explain to his teammates why he left the arena before the game was over and then missed practice the following day. The Cavs might eventually get their act together before the playoffs, but it sure doesn't look good now.

Quote of the Week

Former Cavs coach David Blatt felt blindsided when he was fired and replaced by Ty Lue midway through the team's 2015-16 championship season. Blatt eventually went back to Europe to resume his coaching career, and he directed one of the teams in a Turkish BSL All-Star Game on Sunday.

When asked about his goals for the game, Blatt offered this classic that resonated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean: "I hope we don't give up as many points as the Cavaliers gave up last night."

Very funny line after the Cavs were torched for 148 points in that loss to the Thunder, which matched a franchise record. Problem is, Blatt's All-Star squad gave up 151 in losing their game. You know what they say about karma.

Turnovers, tired legs and more turnovers: Observations from Bulls-Pacers

Turnovers, tired legs and more turnovers: Observations from Bulls-Pacers

You thought Friday night's ending was ugly? Well, the entirety of Saturday's contest caused an eyesore. 

The Pacers trounced the Bulls by 39 points. Here are the observations: 

Tired legs: Fatigue finally caught up to the Bulls.

Playing in their eighth game in 12 nights, each player Fred Hoiberg subbed in looked as exhausted as the next. 

The second quarter was exceptionally painful to watch as the energetic Pacers jumped off to a 17-2 run, effectively ending the game right there. 

Lethargic play ushered in turnovers – a staggering amount of them. 

The Bulls gave the ball away 11 times in the first half alone, leading to 15 Pacers points. Woof. 

This team is young, yes, but even a youthful team succumbs to the often-brutal NBA schedule at times. 

You don't go, we don't go: After foiling Mavs coach Rick Carlisle's gameplan and taking it to rookie Dennis Smith Jr. early and often on Friday night, Kris Dunn was rendered ineffective in Indy. 

Fred Hoiberg used the "you go, we go" Joe Maddonism after the point guard's career night, but it proves true the opposite way, too. And Dunn definitely didn't "go" in the beginning stages of this one. 

Dunn ended his first quarter with two points, four turnovers and two fouls. His first half ended with him posting a half-worst minus-21. So it's probably no coincidence that the Bulls trailed by 27 points after the first 24 minutes of action. 

Early foul trouble has been developing into a concerning pattern for Dunn, and it too frequently forces Hoiberg to call Jerian Grant's name quicker than anticipated. 

The correlation between Dunn's high-scoring nights and Bulls wins is clear: 

But reaching needed scoring numbers proves challenging when sitting on the bench for extended periods of time. 

The returns: After being sidelined the past four games with a sore right knee, Victor Oladipo suited up and appeared fresh. 

So fresh, in fact, that the guard – who's in the midst of a career year – did most of his damage in transition. Oladipo finished with 23 points on an efficient 9-for-11 shooting.

It helps that the Bulls' passing mirrored that out of a junior high gym in spurts, prompting easy buckets for the high-motor guard. 

Indy had dropped four straight without Oladipo, and they're clearly a different monster with him on the floor. 

After seeing Oladipo's impact, one has to wonder what will the Bulls look like when Zach LaVine returns.

That answer is still murky, but a date for the explosive athlete's Bulls debut is becoming clearer. Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill was in studio Saturday to discuss: 

Stay tuned.