Bulls host Mavs in matchup of rebuilding teams
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CHICAGO -- With 21 games remaining in what has already been a long regular season, the Chicago Bulls are continuing to look at young players to best determine who will fit in the long run and who won't.
Coach Fred Hoiberg has never allowed his team's record to become a focal point. And although fans remain hopeful the Bulls' struggles lead to a chance at a lottery pick in this summer's NBA Draft, player development remains at the forefront for Chicago's front office.
The Bulls (20-41) will carry a five-game losing streak into Friday's matchup against the Dallas Mavericks and have dropped 13 of their past 15 as Hoiberg tried different combinations with Chicago's young stars, Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and rookie Lauri Markkanen.
The shift to giving younger players more playing time has meant that former starters Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday have been moved to the bench in order to allow Bulls executives to best determine what their future will look like.
As difficult as the losing has become, the Bulls won't dispute that they are in the necessary stages of a multiyear rebuilding process.
"For us, it's just the reality of the situation," Hoiberg told reporters recently, according to the Chicago Tribune. "We need to see which of our young players fit long term with the plan and the organization. In order to do that, you have to get quality minutes and take extended looks at young guys."
Like the Bulls, the Mavericks (19-43) are pointing toward hopefully landing a draft lottery pick and will enter Friday's game having lost seven of their past 10 games. Dallas dropped a 111-110 decision to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night.
Dallas struggled early and then couldn't get a decent look at a shot in the final seconds in a game in which the Mavericks fell behind early.
The Mavericks trailed by 14 minutes early and never recovered.
"The poor start killed us," Dallas coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after the loss, according to Mavs.com. "That was a big part of it and then getting beat by 20 (in rebounding) is really difficult."
The loss compounded Dallas' difficulties, which gained more attention this week when Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $600,000 by the NBA for his comments on a podcast that he thinks it's in his team's best interest to lose.
His comments were met sternly by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who said his office will pay sharp attention to how losing teams perform in the final weeks of the regular season.
Despite Cuban's comments, Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki told reporters earlier this week that he doesn't believe in Cuban's tanking mentality even during difficult stretches like the one Dallas finds itself in, having lost five of its past six games heading into Friday's game in Chicago.
"I think it's important for our young guys to learn how to compete and to compete all the time, play hard," Nowitzki told reporters this week, according to ESPN.com. "You play your minutes hard. That's the only way to get better.
"That's the only way to play in this league, and whatever happens after the season, we'll just go from there. But for now, you play your minutes hard and you play to win."
Updated March 1, 2018