Luka Doncic

Bulls growing tired of moral victories, compliments from opposing coaches

Bulls growing tired of moral victories, compliments from opposing coaches

DALLAS — The moral victories, and real losses, keep coming for the Bulls.

“I think they are the hardest playing team in the NBA,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said following his team’s 118-110 victory over the Bulls Monday. “They just come at you constantly.”

So does Luka Doncic, who proved the biggest reason the Bulls dropped their fourth straight and fell to a season-low 11 games under .500. The Bulls now are almost as close to the top chance for the No. 1 pick in the lottery (five games) as they are to the East’s eighth playoff seed (four games).

Doncic posted his 11th triple-double with 38 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists and completely took over the game in the third. He scored 21 points in the period.

“He can do so many things. He got in the lane and he can shoot so well,” Lauri Markkanen said. “It’s crazy how high his confidence is and where that can get you. Obviously, he’s really special.”

Kris Dunn drew the primary assignment on Doncic but played only 23 minutes due to foul trouble. Dunn, who stripped Doncic clean for a breakaway dunk in the fourth, finished with five fouls.

“I tried to make things difficult. I mean, it’s tough getting in foul trouble. I couldn’t really do what I would like throughout the game. And once a player gets going, it’s hard to stop him,” Dunn said. “I just wish I didn’t get in foul trouble so I could help my team out a little bit more. That’s something I have to be better with with my fouls. Just try to play solid but still be me.

“There were a couple calls I didn’t agree with. But the refs make the calls and you have to live with it. I have to look at the film, assess it and try to be better with my fouls so I can help my team. I’m a physical defender. I like to get up in people’s jerseys. And when you’re in foul trouble, I kind of have to play Cover 3 a little bit. Play zone and back off a little bit.”

Like the rest of his teammates, Dunn is getting weary of the moral victories.

“It’s tough. I think we put the work in. Everyone cares. Everyone plays their heart out. It sucks when you don’t get the win to back it up,” he said. “The only thing you can do in this league is keep coming, keep learning, keep trying to improve and learn from our mistakes. Try to get better in the second half.”

Markkanen scored 26 points in 36 minutes, a mild surprise given how badly he sprained his left ankle on Saturday in another competitive loss to the Celtics. He said he originally thought he’d miss significant time but the ankle improved with treatment, keeping his goal to play all 82 games alive.

“We wrapped it up pretty good. I didn’t feel much pain. I didn’t have the same pop on dunks,” he said.  “But you just have to fight through and it’s how much pain I can tolerate. It wasn’t significant.”

Doncic’s night was.

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Four observations: Luka Doncic shines as sharp-shooting Mavericks top Bulls

Four observations: Luka Doncic shines as sharp-shooting Mavericks top Bulls

The Bulls dropped their fourth consecutive game, this one 118-110 in Dallas to the Mavericks. Observations: 

Another Lauri Markkanen adversity game

On Dec. 28, Lauri Markkanen spent most of the buildup to a game against the Hawks listed as questionable with flu-like symptoms. He played and scored 25 points.

In advance of this one, his status was more than in question after spraining his ankle against the Celtics on Saturday — Markkanen was listed as doubtful until just before gametime. But he played, again fighting through adversity, and put together a solid performance, finishing with 26 points and 9 rebounds on 10-for-18 shooting.

"I was proud of Lauri Markkanen, fighting through," head coach Jim Boylen said after the game. "I thought he played his heart out."

His 16 points in the first half, especially, were integral to the Bulls keeping up with a couple scary Mavericks spurts. He mostly faded in the second half until the game was on the fringe of being out of reach, but he was the best offensive player on the Bulls tonight. 

Zach LaVine did have 20 points and 7 assists, Tomas Satoransky had 14 dimes and Coby White had 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting off the bench, but the Mavericks had an answer for every punch they threw.

After the game, Markkanen said the ankle was a little sore and that it's "kinda hard to say" how it will feel moving forward.

Luka Doncic shot flames from his fingertips

And there’s no shame in him getting going. Even in a first half that Doncic struggled shooting the ball, he made his mark — scoring 13 points with 6 rebounds and 6 assists — and goaded Kris Dunn into three fouls. Dunn had five personals by the 8:41 mark of the fourth quarter and only logged 23:09 minutes in a game he should have had primary responsibilities on Doncic for much longer. 

"When he gets in foul trouble, we're not as good defensively," Boylen said of Dunn. "KD will learn from it, and Doncic had a big night, gotta give him credit."

Doncic caught fire in a third quarter that saw him matched up mostly with Shaq Harrison, who was in the game in place of Dunn. In the third, Doncic played all 12 minutes and tallied 21 of the Mavericks’ 27 points, shooting 9-for-14 from the field and 3-for-6 from 3. He was unconscious. 

"It's crazy how high his confidence in and where that can get you, so obviously he's really special," Markkanen said of Doncic.

Doncic finished the night with 38 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, his 11th triple-double of the season. Ho-hum. The Mavericks had five players in double-digits, shot 52.4% from the field, 16-for-41 (39%) from 3 and committed only 15 turnovers.

"That's the most anyone's scored on us in a while, I think," Boylen said of the Mavericks' 118 points. 

Matchups that mattered

In a lot of ways, this was an uncharacteristic performance for the Bulls. As mentioned, the Mavericks shot a good clip from the field and didn’t turn the ball over much — both dings to a surging defense — but Dallas has the best offense in the NBA. Completely suffocating them would have been impossible. And given the Bulls’ offensive struggles, keeping up with them proved too great a challenge, as well.

Though the Bulls accrued a staggering 72 points in the paint, they shot only 9-for-31 (29%) from 3. They outrebounded the Mavs 45-43, but gave up some crucial long boards late. They scored 27 fastbreak points, but shot only 11 free throws to Dallas’ 19. And though the bench outscored Dallas’ 51-34, it was the Mavericks who had the big shots fall late. They shot 6-for-15 from 3 in the fourth quarter to the Bulls' 2-for-8, delivering dagger after dagger.

"It's frustrating because we know that we can be so much better and we're still in these games," Markkanen said. "Obviously they got hot in the third and we weren't able to stop that. Just gotta play the full 48 minutes."

The Bulls stuck around as long as they could, and finished the game a respectable 46.9% from the field, with 25 assists and only 8 turnovers. It was a solid offensive performance, but they just didn't have the firepower to get over the hump.

Injury scares

Both of the Bulls’ primary centers had scary injury-related moments in this one. Daniel Gafford went down hard after landing on a Mavericks player’s ankle in the second quarter, but was able to walk off under his own power.

Wendell Carter Jr.’s was a bit more serious. After a missed layup early in the third, he landed on Dwight Powell's foot, sprained his ankle and had to be taken off in a wheelchair. X-Rays on the ankle later came back negative.

"I just tried to make a play, tried to get to the basket and I just felt my ankle flop all the way over, that's all I remember from it," Carter said. "Probably the worst pain I've ever endured playing basketball." Carter wasn't sure of a timeline for his return but said "sooner the better."

Gafford returned in Carter’s stead, finishing the night with 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 blocks (with 6 dunks) in 24:50 minutes.

And in other semi-related injury news, Chandler Hutchison played in a Bulls game for the first time since Nov. 27. He notched a relatively unimpactful 5:52 minutes (all in the second quarter), logging goose eggs across the board.

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Bulls pay respects to Mavericks star Luka Doncic's MVP-caliber season

Bulls pay respects to Mavericks star Luka Doncic's MVP-caliber season

DALLAS — On a day Lauri Markkanen’s sprained left ankle improved and Chandler Hutchison landed on the active roster, the Bulls paid their respects to Luka Doncic.

It’s hard not to, given the way the Mavericks star is carving up defenses to the tune of 29.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8.9 assists.

“He’s got everybody in the country talking about him,” Kris Dunn said.

Dunn will likely draw the primary defensive assignment against the 6-foot-7, 230-pound Doncic, who has vaulted into most valuable player consideration in his second season.

“I think his physical strength and his size stand out,” coach Jim Boylen said. “He uses his physical size. He’s like a linebacker handling the basketball. And then you add his skill level. He has unbelievable skill level---the stepback going left, the forceful drives going right. That combination of size and strength and decision-making makes him a special player.”

Markkanen has battled Doncic back to their days at the European Championships.

“I obviously knew how good he was and how good he could be, so I’m not even surprised,” Markkanen said. “He’s been doing that since he’s been 15, 14 years old when he started playing? Obviously, averaging pretty close to a 30-point triple-double, I didn’t think that, but I knew he was going to be great.’’

Why did Markkanen think that?

“You couldn’t speed him up,” the Finnish forward said. “He was always going at his own pace and he knew how to create his own shots. He was a good shooter, so I had no doubts.”

The Mavericks possess the league’s top-ranked offense. The Bulls’ defense ranks fifth.

“My job is to do what I do. Come in, be physical, try to make it tough on him,” Dunn said. “Try to get him out of rhythm. That’s what basketball is, especially for offensive players. If they got a rhythm going, it’s hard to stop them. So I try to break up their rhythm a little and then try to send them to the wolves, to the team. Try to bring him to Wendell (Carter). Maybe Wendell will get a couple blocks on him.” 

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