CHICAGO -- Luol Deng said he truly believes the Bulls' best basketball remains ahead. The Bulls better hope so.
In an effort as ugly as Aunt Edna's holiday sweater, the Bulls got dismantled in almost every aspect Saturday night at the United Center. Their modest two-game winning streak crashed and burned as the Mavericks took target practice in a 105-83 laugher in which they led by as many as 32 points.
The Mavericks shot 52.6 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range, a problem area for the Bulls all season. But even the Bulls hadn't allowed two four-point plays before, which they did to Dirk Nowitzki and Marquette product Jae Crowder within 2 minutes, 19 seconds of each other in the second quarter.
Monta Ellis' 22 points led four in double figures for Dallas, which sank a Bulls' opponent-season-high 13 3-pointers. Nowitzki and Vince Carter added 18 points apiece.
"The defense, initially, I thought was pretty good," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We got called for some fouls. And I thought we softened up. And when we softened up they got rhythm. We can't do that. We have to still play hard without fouling."
The Bulls also committed 18 turnovers leading to 22 Mavericks' points. That included a career-high seven by Jimmy Butler, who played close to 46 minutes and tweaked his lingering turf toe. Butler said he's playing Monday against the Grizzlies in Memphis.
Joakim Noah, who played after missing Friday's practice with a sore hip, had 20 points and 10 rebounds for team-highs.
The Bulls led 17-15 late in the first when the wheels fell off. The Mavericks closed the period with a 15-2 run Carter capped with a 3-pointer from Oak Park, er, just inside the timeline. By halftime, Thibodeau had drawn a technical foul and the Bulls trailed 61-34.
As for halftime adjustments, the Mavericks shot 68.8 percent in the third quarter. Next subject?
And don't be fooled by the Bulls finally showing a pulse in the fourth, which they began behind 30 points. Sure, they opened with a 16-0 run as the Mavericks missed their first seven shots and failed to score until a Carter layup at the 6:16 mark.
But the Bulls were down double digits from the 10:49 mark of the second quarter onward.
"Right when you're feeling too good about yourself, somebody smacks you," Taj Gibson said. "That's part of the NBA. Humble beginnings, I tell you. (Thibodeau) told us what to do. At times, we did it. At times, we didn't do it. And it hurt us. Our rotations weren't there."
Speaking at the morning shootaround before he sat for the fourth straight game with a sore left Achilles, Deng said the team will improve if it ever gets to fuller strength. Full strength, of course, is impossible because of Derrick Rose's season-ending knee injury.
"We've had just an unbelievable amount of injuries," Deng said. "We're better than what our record says. I'm looking forward to everybody being at full strength and seeing how good we can be."
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