CHICAGO -- Tonight's game, with the Mavericks having already secured a playoff spot and the Chicago Bulls hurting and in danger of losing the No. 1 seed in the East, is steeped in intrigue.
Will the Bulls' banged-up MVP Derrick Rose play? We know the Mavs' 39-year-old point guard Jason Kidd will not. Will Rick Carlisle otherwise go full-throttle with Dirk Nowitzki and the rest of his squad and test it against a rugged competitor with high stakes on the line?
"The most physical defensive team in basketball," Carlisle said, describing the Bulls, the NBA's best rebounding bunch. "It'll be good. We need that kind of game right now."
No one wants to risk injury, and how concerned are the Mavs with seeding anyway? Remain sixth and face the Lakers, or perhaps the Clippers as a long shot. Drop to seventh and draw the Spurs or Thunder. At the same time, no one wants to roll into Chicago and get blown out by the owners of the league's best record. There's no progress in that for a team that is still just coming together.
"Play to win," said the suddenly re-emerging Vince Carter. "Whoever is on the court."
The stakes are greater for the Bulls, but for the Mavs there remains confidence, consistency and momentum to gain.
"You don't want to kind of lollygag a week before the playoffs," Nowitzki said.
Carlisle won't let his team lollygag. At the same time he will manage his players by the minutes he deems fit and not by what the game might ordinarily ask him to do, to steal an axiom from Rangers manager Ron Washington.
Dallas wants to compete, but a win, unlike for Chicago, is not top priority.
Records: Mavs (36-28); Bulls (47-16)
When: 7 p.m.
Where: United Center
TV: ESPN, FSSW
Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1270 AM (Spanish)
What to watch: Keep an eye on Carter, who has re-asserted himself since taking over minutes at small forward with Lamar Odom on team-mandated vacation. He's averaged 20 points over the last three games and has gone to the free throw line 20 times.
Key matchup: Luol Deng vs. Shawn Marion
The 6-foot-9 small forward from Sudan has been absolute workhorse this season, averaging a tick under 40 minutes a game. he's logged 40 minutes or more in seven consecutive games, but he's coming off to of his worst performances of the season, going 6-of-23 from the floor and 0-of-8 from 3-point land for a total of 13 points. Another sign that Deng could be tiring is that the 77 percent free throw shooter is 2-of-8 in his last three games. Still, the long-armed Deng will be another good challenge for Marion to sharpen himself defensively as Kobe Bryant, Manu Ginobili or Kevin Durant await in the first round.
Injuries: Mavs – G Jason Kidd (rest) is out. Bulls -- G Derrick Rose (right ankle/foot) is a game-time decision; F Luol Deng (ribs) is probable.
Up next: Mavs at Atlanta Hawks, 7 p.m., Thursday