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Bulls hit in the face by Mavericks as legend of Luka Doncic continues to grow

The plan going in was to slow the MVP candidate down, but great players change plans.

Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic celebrates during the second half of Monday’s game against the Bulls.
Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic celebrates during the second half of Monday’s game against the Bulls.
Sam Hodde/AP

DALLAS — Bulls big man Lauri Markkanen saw Mavericks star Luka Doncic coming.

Not Monday. Not even last season, when the then-rookie burst onto the scene and instantly changed the direction of the Mavericks’ rebuild.

No, the legend of Doncic started when he was playing for Real Madrid as a 16-year-old, and almost every European player has a ‘‘Luka story’’ since that time.

Former Bulls forwards Paul Zipser and Nikola Mirotic played against Doncic, as did Markkanen.

‘‘Yeah, I played him from my rookie year in the European Championship, so I obviously knew how good he was and how good he could be,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘I mean, I knew he was going to be great, so I’m not even surprised. He’s been doing that for, what, since he’s been 15, 14 years old when he started playing?

‘‘Obviously, averaging pretty close to a 30-point triple-double [this season], I didn’t think that. But I knew he was going to be great.’’

The Bulls’ hope was that he wouldn’t be Monday. No such luck.

Markkanen and the Bulls went into the game with a plan to try to slow down Doncic and quickly realized what most of the league is realizing about him this season: Doncic, 20, changes plans quickly.

Doncic’s MVP-level campaign continued against the Bulls. He notched his 11th triple-double of the season with 38 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists in the Mavericks’ 118-110 victory.

‘‘You’ve got to live with some of those shots,’’ Bulls coach Jim Boylen said of Doncic’s performance. ‘‘I don’t want us fouling him; I don’t want us side-saddling him. I thought we side-saddled him a few times. He has a big advantage when you side-saddle him because of his strength and his size [6-7]. . . . He was good. He made tough shots. He had one of those nights that good players have.’’

All of it was on display in the third quarter. Doncic scored 21 points in the quarter — 14 in a row — countering the Bulls each time they were poised to make a run.

Even more impressive was that he did it against a suddenly stubborn defense and an elite defender in Kris Dunn. Not only did Doncic have Dunn in foul trouble for most of the night, but he showed no mercy for Shaquille Harrison when Boylen was forced to turn to him.

Markkanen, who played despite a sprained left ankle and finished with 26 points, pointed to Doncic’s ability to play at his own pace.

‘‘You couldn’t speed him up,’’ Markkanen said, reflecting back. ‘‘He was always going at his own pace, and he knew how to create his own shots.’’

That hasn’t changed. If anything, Doncic only has gotten smarter about how to get position on and break down defenders.

‘‘He not deterred by an 0-for-4 start or a missed opportunity; he just keeps playing,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘He keeps you where he wants you. People talk about he plays at his own pace. I think the game is real slow for him. And once he feels you, he’s got you. Great players do that.

‘‘The other thing that’s amazing about him is I’ve never seen him run from a late-game opportunity to win the game. He’s not fearful of it not going his way at the end. And that’s a skill.’’

The bad news didn’t end there for the Bulls. They also lost big man Wendell Carter Jr. to an injured right ankle. X-rays were negative, but he left the locker room on crutches and will have an MRI exam Tuesday.