Tank watch at United Center: Bulls snap 5-game skid, beat Mavs 108-100

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Chicago Bulls’ Bobby Portis (5) and Lauri Markkanen celebrates Markkanen’s clutch score late in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, March 2, 2018, in Chicago.| Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

The bar was set low for the tank-watch matchup Friday at the United Center, and the Bulls’ 108-100 victory against the Mavericks was about as thrilling as you would expect from two teams vying for a high draft pick.

Until the last 12 minutes, that is.

The Bulls (21-41) and Mavericks (19-44) were two of the nine teams that entered play Friday with a .387 winning percentage or worse.

What does this mean for the state of the league?

‘‘It says that all nine of us have to get better,’’ Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said before the game.

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With the exception of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who recently was fined $600,000 by the NBA for saying ‘‘losing is our best option,’’ most coaches, players and executives shudder when they hear the word ‘‘tank.’’

When asked about the idea of tanking a season, they’ll deflect the question or spew phrases such as ‘‘player development,’’ ‘‘working on our chemistry’’ and ‘‘looking for consistency,’’ to name a few.

When asked whether bad teams are hurting the league as a whole, Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg talked around the question and avoided being too specific.

‘‘You can tell [the Mavericks are] trying to win games,’’ he said. ‘‘The same thing applies to us right now. Obviously, we’re in a position where we’re looking at guys for the future, which a lot of teams in our position are doing, but we’re still trying to go out and compete and put ourselves in a position to win.’’

But the truth is, the only thing that truly can put the Bulls in a position to win is losing, so they can aim for a higher draft pick. Plus, keeping expectations low will remove some pressure from the younger players, who can gain confidence and consistency — two areas Hoiberg noted the Bulls have struggled with.

‘‘We’re playing good stretches, [but] we’re just not consistent enough right now,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s what we’re aiming for down the stretch — to be a consistent team that . . . puts ourselves in a position to win.’’

The Bulls’ inconsistency was evident against the Mavericks. Their performance in an ugly first quarter was a stark contrast to their dominating effort in the fourth.

The Bulls were 0-for-6 from the field and 0-for-2 from the free-throw line in the first 3:49, helping the Mavericks open a 10-0 lead. At the end of the first half, the Bulls were shooting 39.1 percent from the field and 18.2 percent from three-point range.

In the fourth quarter, however, something clicked. The Bulls outscored the Mavericks 30-15, thanks to Bobby Portis and Zach LaVine combining for 15 points, to end a five-game skid.

Portis, who will start Monday against the Celtics, has been huge for the Bulls recently. He finished with 22 points, his 11th consecutive game in double figures.

The three key players of the Bulls’ rebuild — Zach Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and LaVine — also had strong outings.

Dunn finished with 18 points, seven rebounds and seven assists and shot 3-for-4 from three-point range. Markkanen had 17 points and 12 rebounds for his 14th double-double. And LaVine had 16 points to go with six assists.

Follow me on Twitter @madkenney.

Email: mkenney@suntimes.com

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