Following the sky is falling aftermath to a loss at the hands of rival Miami Thursday, all is well in the Windy City again, as Derrick Rose made a solid, if not spectacular return to the lineup after missing three consecutive games due to a right-ankle injury and the Bulls held off the short-handed, defending-champion Mavericks, 93-83, Saturday night at the United Center.
With the victory, in which starting wings Rip Hamilton and Luol Deng played a major partHamilton at the beginning and Deng at the endcoupled with the Heats loss to the lowly Wizards on the same evening, albeit without the Big Three, the Bulls (48-16) are now a game away from clinching the top seed in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs.
Facing a playoff-bound opponent resting two veteran mainstays in future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd and sixth-man extraordinaire Jason Terry, the Bulls jumped all over their guests from the outset. Hamilton (19 points on 9-for-16 shooting) was extremely effective, as the veteran shooting guard showcased his offensive versatility, as his trademark mid-range game, post-up ability and transition scoring were all on display.
Carlos Boozer (12 points, 10 rebounds) was also a force in the early going, as the soft touch on his jumper gave the Bulls an inside-outside combination. Meanwhile, stifling defense limited Dallas (36-29) to 4-for-19 shooting in the opening period, leading to a season-low eight points in a quarter for the visitors and a 21-8 lead for the Bulls.
In the second quarter, last seasons NBA Finals MVP, Dirk Nowitzki (17 points, seven rebounds), came alive, knocking down a variety of degree-of-difficulty shots and helping the Mavericks get within striking distance.
Dallas bench was also key in cutting the deficit to single digits, as former All-Star swingman Vince Carter (15 points) repeatedly got to the charity stripe, fill-in starting point guard Rodrigue Beaubois (16 points, five assists, six rebounds)who briefly left the contest with a dislocated fingerwas a solid playmaker and big man Brandan Wright provided energy off the bench.
Rose (11 points, eight assists in 32 minutes) got his offense in gear, hitting a triple to get on the board, then proving he could still penetrate at will, as well as distribute the ball.
Deng (22 points, six rebounds), the squads other All-Star, also got his game in gear in the period, making a pair of triples, while Joakim Noah (eight points, 14 rebounds, eight assists) and Boozer were big on the boards, aiding the Bulls in taking a 44-38 advantage into the intermission.
Dallas kept it close after the break, as Nowitzki continued to go to work and shooting guard Delonte West (13 points) gave the Bulls problems with his versatility, toughness and underrated scoring. Hamilton resumed his productive ways to maintain the hosts slim cushion, although he earned a technical foul for a brief tete-a-tete with Nowitzki, which also resulted in a double foul on both veterans.
The visitors went on to take their first lead of the contest on a West jumper with three minutes remaining in the period and perhaps that sparked the Bulls, as they dominated the rest of the quarter, shutting down the Mavericks on defense and playing with increased energy on the offensive end of the court.
The games third frame culminated with a Deng buzzer-beating three to give the Bulls a 66-56 edge heading into the final stanza.
Led by a resurgent Deng, the playmaking of backup point guard C.J. Watson, the rebounding efforts of Taj Gibson and the sharpshooting of Kyle Korver (11 points), the Bulls kept the Mavericks in a hole at the beginning of the fourth quarter, despite Carters best attempts at harkening back to his Half Man, Half Amazing days, at least as a scorer, if not a superior athlete.
However, one of the home teams periodic offensive droughts struck again and Dallas again made the game too close for comfort behind the aggressive play of youngsters Beaubois and reserve shooting guard Dominique Jones.
But with Deng, a hot-shooting Korver and an efficient Rose setting the tone, the Bulls managed to put enough distance between themselves and the Mavericks as the game entered its stretch run, with a Deng triple with just under two minutes to go giving the hosts a double-digit lead.
A reserve-heavy Dallas lineup continued to make a push toward the end, but Chicago held on, as Deng helped close it out and the appreciative home crowd showed their love, especially after the PA announcer let them know of the Heat loss.