Mavericks-Bulls Preview

With their defense back on track and overall health improving,

the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of their longest winning streak

in more than a month.

The Dallas Mavericks are looking to tighten things up following

their worst defensive stretch of the season.

The Bulls hope to have leading scorer Luol Deng back as they

seek their third straight win Saturday night while the visiting

Mavericks try to avoid their fourth loss in five games.

Chicago (11-16) couldn’t contain two of the top-scoring teams in

the league, surrendering a total of 216 points on 52.4 percent

shooting – including 17 of 37 from 3-point range – in double-digit

losses at Houston and Oklahoma City last week.

The Bulls, however, bounced back by limiting Cleveland and

Brooklyn to a combined 162 points, 37.9 percent shooting and 9 of

35 from beyond the arc in their last two victories. They held the

Nets to season lows in points and shooting percentage (35.2) in a

95-78 road win on Christmas Day.

Chicago welcomed back starters Kirk Hinrich (back) and Jimmy

Butler (ankle) in Wednesday’s win.

Deng, though, is likely to be a game-time decision after missing

three straight and seven of the past 10 because of an Achilles

injury. The two-time All-Star, averaging a team-high 19.6 points,

has scored 23.0 per game with nine 3-pointers in his last three

against the Mavericks (16-13).

“It’s coming around,” coach Tom Thibodeau told the team’s

official website. “It’s good to get guys back.”

Though they haven’t won three in a row since a five-game run

from Nov. 8-18, the injury-ravaged Bulls remain one of the league’s

top defensive clubs with 92.7 points allowed per game on 42.8

percent shooting.

The Mavericks have had trouble scoring in recent visits to the

United Center, averaging 79.3 points while shooting 36.5 percent

during their three-game skid in Chicago. But they’re playing well

offensively heading into this meeting, averaging 107.5 points on

49.5 percent shooting over their last six.

Dirk Nowitzki leads Dallas with 21.6 points per game after

finishing with a game-high 25 in a 116-107 loss to visiting San

Antonio on Thursday. He had 35 points on 14-of-17 shooting –

including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.9 seconds left – in a

100-98 home win over the Bulls on March 30.

The Mavericks could be getting Brandan Wright back after he

missed Thursday’s game because of an undisclosed illness. Wright,

who missed the first 23 games while recovering from a fractured

shoulder, has averaged 12.2 points on 25-of-34 shooting with nine

blocked shots in the five games he’s played.

Dallas could use any help it can get on the defensive end after

allowing 113.0 points and 46.5 percent shooting from 3-point range

while dropping three of four.

“It’s just giving up too many points,” Nowitzki told the team’s

official website. “It’s tough and puts a lot of pressure on our


The Bulls have averaged 96.0 points and shot 46.8 percent over

their previous four games following a six-game stretch in which

they averaged 79.5 points while shooting a dreadful 36.1


Taj Gibson has provided a spark with 16.3 points per game in his

past four, while D.J. Augustin has averaged 15.3 points while

making 9 for 17 from beyond the arc in his last three.

The Bulls are seeking their fifth win in six meetings.