Bulls-Mavericks Preview

The Associated Press

Solid defense has been a staple for the Chicago Bulls under coach Tom Thibodeau, but a suddenly potent offense has helped carry them a season-high five games over .500.

They weren't as successful on either end of the floor in their first meeting with the Dallas Mavericks, though.

Chicago seeks its eighth victory in nine games Friday night at Dallas, which has won four straight.

The Bulls (31-26) ranked among the NBA's top three in scoring defense in each of Thibodeau's first three seasons, and they're again among the league leaders in 2013-14 by giving up an average of 91.3 points.

Though Chicago is the lowest-scoring team in the league at 92.9 points per contest, it has eclipsed the 100-point mark in three of its last four. In Wednesday's 103-83 victory over Golden State, it held the high-scoring Warriors to their fewest points in nearly three months while leading by as many as 28.

Taj Gibson scored a game-high 21 points, Jimmy Butler added 16 after missing the previous two games with bruised ribs, and Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy scored 15 apiece. Joakim Noah had eight points, 17 rebounds and seven assists.

The Bulls have topped 100 points in five of their last 10 after doing so nine times in their first 47 contests - one needing overtime and two others going to three OTs.

"We're a confident group," Noah said. "(Wednesday) was a big win for us. Played against a team with great offensive firepower, definitely one of the best teams in the West. To come out there and kick their (butts) like that feels great."

Chicago, hot on the heels of Toronto for the Eastern Conference's third seed, has won four of six on the road. It will play three of its next four away from United Center.

"Now's the time to step on the gas pedal and really get ready for the playoffs," Boozer said.

Noah finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in the first meeting with Dallas on Dec. 28, but the Mavericks took control early and led by as many as 32 en route to a 105-83 road victory.

Monta Ellis scored a game-high 22 points, while Dirk Nowitzki added 18 in that contest for Dallas (36-23), which moved a season-best 13 games over .500 with Wednesday's 108-89 win over New Orleans.

Nowitzki left 31 seconds into the game with a shoulder injury but returned shortly after and finished with 18 points. He said the shoulder issue has been ongoing for the majority of his career and isn't a concern.

"I've had it ever since Karl Malone hacked me in '99," Nowitzki said. "The shoulder just sometimes comes in and out a little bit. It's happened a good 20 times already over my career and it's going to keep happening again here and there, but I've just got to keep strengthening it on off days and work through it."

Ellis added 23 points for Dallas, which has won 10 of 12 overall and four of five at home.

"The last 12 games we've been playing together as a team," Ellis said. "I think we are coming along at the right time. I think everybody is tuned in and accepting their role of what they need to do to help us win. The biggest thing is that everyone is playing together."

The Mavericks have won 13 of the last 15 home matchups with Chicago.

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