VIDEO: Bulls drop Mavs
DALLAS — The Dallas Mavericks entered the final night of February looking to cap a momentum-building month with a show of toughness against the bruising Chicago Bulls, but exited their own arena on the wrong end of playground punking, coming up short 100-91.
Joakim Noah and company were caught flat-footed early and trailed by 16 in the second quarter before standing their ground with a serving of old-school, Eastern Conference nastiness. The never-say-die Bulls won for the eighth time in nine games by applying a sleeper hold to Dallas’ offense that came into the game ranked No. 2 in the league in February and left as No. 3.
As the Mavs managed 37 second-half points and 15 in the fourth quarter — and just nine before the Bulls put it away in the final two minutes — poof went their four-game win streak as well as some of the good feelings of what was a 9-2 month turned 9-3. Only two of the wins came against winning teams, a big road victory at Indiana prior to the All-Star break and a victory at Memphis without Mike Conley. The rest came against the league’s riffraff.
Now Dallas (36-24) faces something of a moment of truth over the next 16 days. It begins a stretch of seven games against six strong clubs starting Sunday at San Antonio. After a stop at struggling Denver, Portland and Indiana come to Dallas followed by road games at Golden State and Oklahoma City.
“We’ll see. We got to do something,” said Mavs forward Shawn Marion, one of two remaining members from the 2011 title team along with Dirk Nowitzki.
“It’s going to measure up everything right now. We’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a test for everybody. We’ve got to help each other. It’s got to be a continual collective effort.”
The Mavs flip-flopped positions in the standings with Golden State after Friday night and head into March as the No. 7 seed and just one game ahead of ninth-place Memphis in the loss column. How they compete over the next 16 days should provide the best indication yet if this team with nine new players to start the year is capable of reaching another level, or is simply a talented offensive team with little hope of pushing a first-round series to the brink.
“We got a lot of good teams coming up and we’ve got to keep working, execute a little better offensively, but still we’re a good-shooting team,” Nowitzki said. “Once we do have shots from the outside we’re going to keep stepping into them with confidence and we’ll go from there.”
What we’ve learned about Dallas so far is they have an offense that on most nights can score with anybody. Monta Ellis has thrived playing with Nowitzki and leads the league in points on drives to the bucket. Nowitzki is again an All-Star and 37-year-old Vince Carter is making a serious run at the Sixth Man of the Year award having remade himself into a knock-down 3-point shooter.
Their problems stem mostly at the other end and on the boards. They made progress in February, ranking 16th in defensive rating. That they still rank 22nd on the season reveals just how porous it has been. They’ve also attacked the glass with much more passion in February, ranking fifth in rebounding percentage, yet still only 24th for the season.
“I like our effort on the glass, I have the last couple weeks,” Nowitzki said. “We made it a priority for this team: If we want to be a good team we’ve got to rebound, so I don’t think that really lost us the game [Friday]. I like our chances if we rebound the ball and play hard on the defensive end. We’re not going to be cold like that all of the time.”
If the Mavs have higher gear, we’re about to find out.