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

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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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