Nowitzki looks to build on one of his best games of the season as the Mavericks open a three-game road trip against the Chicago Bulls.
Howard has missed the past four games due to a sprained right ankle and isn’t expected to play in this game. Van Horn, sidelined with a sprained middle finger, and Stackhouse, nursing a sore right knee, are both out indefinitely.
That means Nowitzki has had little choice but to take on an even greater share of the offensive load. He has responded thus far, averaging 24.7 points per game, good for eighth in the league.
After struggling in his previous two games, Nowitzki was very sharp in a 97-88 victory Saturday over the New Orleans Hornets. He scored 16 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 10-of-17 from the field after going 8-for-35 in losses to the Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs.
“I’ve worked too hard to struggle this much,” Nowitzki said. “I have confidence in my shot. There will always be nights when your shot isn’t going to be there. I felt good in warmups. My first couple of shots went in and that helps in building confidence.”
The Mavericks are 11-1 this season when Nowitzki scores at least 20 points. He is averaging 19.4 points in 13 career games against the Bulls.
“When he is aggressive and mixing his game up, they don’t play him for one particular area of his game,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “He showed up his post-up game, his driving ability, his 3-point shot and his in-between game.”
Dallas shouldn’t mind starting this trip against the Bulls. The Mavericks have won 13 of the last 14 meetings overall and six straight in Chicago since their last loss on Dec. 29, 1997.
The Bulls returned home Saturday following a six-game road trip and lost to 92-79 to the Detroit Pistons.
Luol Deng followed a season-high 28-point performance in Friday’s victory over the Boston Celtics with 18 points against the Pistons. Michael Sweetney added 15 and eight rebounds for the Bulls, who were playing their fourth game in five nights.
Bulls center Tyson Chandler refused to blame his team’s busy schedule for the loss.
“We can’t use fatigue as an excuse,” he said. “We didn’t have a good game. We did get off to a great start and then had a meltdown.”
Chicago needs starting guard Kirk Hinrich to get back on track. Hinrich, the team’s third-leading scorer, has scored a combined 16 points on 6-for-24 shooting in the last two games.
STANDINGS (through Dec. 4): Mavericks - 3rd place, 2 GB, Southwest Division. Bulls - 5th place, 5 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Mavericks - Nowitzki, 24.7 ppg and 8.9 rpg; Terry, 3.8 apg. Bulls - Ben Gordon, 14.8 ppg; Chandler, 9.5 rpg; Hinrich, 7.1 apg.
2004-05 SEASON SERIES: Tied, 1-1.
LAST MEETING: Feb. 8; Bulls 107-100. At Dallas, Deng had 30 points as the Bulls ended a 13-game losing streak to the Mavericks.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Mavericks - 5-3 on the road; Bulls - 4-2 at home.