The Bulls are riding their first winning streak in more than a month and will look to extend it to three games when they host the Dallas Mavericks tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, hosted by Mark Schanowski. And after the game, those two will have highlights, analysis and updates on Bulls Postgame Live.
Last year the Dallas Mavericks missed the playoffs for the first time in 12 seasons, and it appeared as though age had taken its toll on one of the most storied franchises of the 2000s. A 2011 NBA championship, a Finals appearance in 2006 and four other Western Conference semifinals appearances were grand, but they struggled to a 41-41 record in 2013 and missed the playoffs by four games.
Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion had turned 34 years old, Darren Collison and OJ Mayo were both set for free agency and the team missed out on hot free agents of their own in Deron Williams in 2012 (Brooklyn) and Dwight Howard this past offseason (Houston), leaving the immediate future in doubt.
But it appears that the playoff window may have remained open for one more season, at least, as Nowitzki has improved on his numbers from a year ago and free agent acquisition Monta Ellis has been one of the best newcomers in the league.
Last year Nowitzki averaged 17.3 points per game, the second lowest mark of his career and the first time since 2000 he had averaged less than 21 points per game. His usage rate was down five percentage points from 2011-12 and a right knee injury cost him 29 games -- the first real major injury of his career.
But Nowtizki has returned to his rare form this season. Through 28 games the 7-footer has averaged 23.5 points on 50 percent shooting, he's making a career-best 92.3 percent of his free throws and has played some of the best defense of his 16-year career.
Ellis was happy to leave Milwaukee after 1.5 turbulent seasons in which he did more harm than good, and the point-guard deprived Mavericks ultimately signed him to a two-year, $10 million deal with incentives. And gone are the struggles in Milwaukee; in 29 games Ellis is averaging 20.7 points on 46 percent shooting (up five percentage points from last season) and is averaging 5.8 assists for the Mavericks offense, the eighth most efficient group in the NBA -- last year Dallas ranked 11th in efficiency, so Ellis helping.
The result has been an improved 16-13 record, currently good for eighth in the West. They are just 9-10 against the West, but they also tout wins over Atlanta, Houston, Golden State and Portland -- in fact, they are just one of two teams to have beaten the Trail Blazers at home in 14 tries. Now they travel to Chicago, where they'll look to improve on their 5-9 record away from Dallas.
Behind Nowitzki and Ellis, the Mavericks have themselves back in contention for a playoff spot. They face a Bulls team that has won two straight, but may face a team without Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. It's all on Comcast SportsNet tonight at 7:00, with Pregame and Postgame Live having you covered throughout the night. And make sure to stay interactive throughout the night on Bulls Pulse, using #BullsTalk to join the conversation.