Mavericks-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

The final stretch of the regular season has not gone as smoothly as the Chicago Bulls had wanted.

Hoping to bounce back from their latest defeat without injured star Derrick Rose, the Bulls try to maintain their grasp on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference with a third consecutive win over the visiting Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.

Chicago's hold on the top seed and home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs got a little looser with an 83-72 loss at Miami on Thursday to split the four-game season series between the teams.

The Bulls (47-16) have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Heat in the East, one in the loss column. Chicago has three games remaining, while Miami has four.

"Got to win, got to win," said Bulls guard Richard Hamilton, who was held to six points on 1-of-6 shooting Thursday after scoring 22 in each of the previous two contests. "Just take one game at a time. We have Dallas coming up and we have to figure out a way to win that game."

The Bulls likely must try to get that done without Rose for a fourth consecutive game because of a foot injury. Chicago is 17-9 without him during his injury-plagued season, including 3-4 in April.

There is a possibility that Rose, averaging 22.5 points and 7.9 assists, could return for Wednesday's game at Indiana.

"You deal with it like you deal with it all year," coach Tom Thibodeau said.

Third-string point guard John Lucas had a team-high 16 points Thursday as the Bulls shot 35.7 percent and were physically pushed around while scoring their fewest points of the season.

"This game will reveal certain things to us, things that need to be corrected, continue to strive for improvement, and we're not going to get caught up in (leads of) 1 1/2 games, 2 1/2 games or whatever," Thibodeau said. "Just keep doing the things we need to do to win, that's all we're focusing on.

"We get ready for Dallas."

Chicago beat the reigning NBA champs 82-77 at home in the most recent meeting Jan. 20, 2011. Playing without Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, the Bulls got 26 points, nine assists and seven rebounds from Rose - the only Chicago player to score in double figures.

While Chicago looks to avoid dropping consecutive home games for the first time since a five-game skid March 1-19, 2010, the Mavericks (36-28) hope to avoid a third straight road defeat.

Dallas is coming off a pair of home victories after beating Golden State 104-94 on Friday. With two games remaining, the Mavericks are trying to hang on to the sixth seed in the West.

"We're playing as a cohesive unit out there," said guard Delonte West, who had 16 points against the Warriors.

Dirk Nowitzki averaged 30.0 points in the previous five games before scoring 16 on Friday in the Mavericks' home finale. He's averaged 30.4 points in his last five against the Bulls but finished with 19 on 6-of-16 shooting at Chicago last season.

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