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W2W4: Mavs try to climb back to .500

The phrase, “We can’t [fill in the blank] when the playoffs start,” has been said several times in the Mavericks’ locker room.

They better start winning or they won’t have to worry about that.

Sure, it’s premature to panic about playoff positioning, but if the Mavs lose to the Chicago Bulls tonight, they’ll be under .500 at the latest point of a season since 1999-2000. That just happens to be the last season that the Mavericks landed in the lottery.

The Mavs are hoping to keep their heads above water until Dirk Nowitzki is ready to play, which will hopefully be in mid-December. After losing seven of their last 10 games, they need this win over a Bulls team that is also missing its superstar.

Records: Mavs (7-8); Bulls (6-7)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV: FSSW

Radio: ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM/1270 AM (Spanish)

What to watch: Will the Mavs play with energy a night after a down-to-the-wire loss? They are 1-2 in the butt end of back-to-backs this season. The Mavs have been guilty of allowing their offensive efficiency to impact their energy level too often this season. That can’t be the case against the Bulls, one of the NBA’s toughest defensive teams. This game isn’t going to be pretty. Can the Mavs grind out an ugly win?

Key matchup: Chris Kaman vs. Joakim Noah: Noah, an athletic center with Tasmanian Devil-like energy, is the kind of big man who can exploit the Mavs’ problems on the boards. He has had double-doubles three of the last four times he faced Kaman, including a 15-point, 16-rebound performance in their last meeting, a Bulls win over the Hornets. Kaman is coming off an efficient 20-point performance against the Sixers, but he’s been a nonfactor as a rebounder recently. Since grabbing a season-high 17 boards in last week’s loss to the Warriors, Kaman has only 12 rebounds in three games.

Injuries: Mavs – PF Dirk Nowitzki (knee) is out. Bulls – PG Derrick Rose (knee) is out.

Up next: vs. Detroit Pistons, 7:30 p.m. Saturday