Kris Dunn still has bite despite Bulls’ toothless season

If defense is Dunn’s art form, then this season has been his masterpiece.

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Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic attempts to shoot as Bulls guard Kris Dunn defends Monday night.

Dallas Mavericks forward Luka Doncic attempts to shoot as Bulls guard Kris Dunn defends Monday night.

Sam Hodde/AP

NEW ORLEANS — Sometimes the ‘‘dawg’’ bites, sometimes the ‘‘dawg’’ gets bitten.

Mavericks star Luka Doncic continued his MVP-level season Monday by putting up a triple-double — 38 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists — in a 118-110 victory against the Bulls in Dallas.

Impressive? Absolutely. But that he did it against self-proclaimed ‘‘dawg’’ Kris Dunn was downright nasty.

Since being drafted fifth overall in 2016, Dunn has had the reputation of being a defense-first player. The problem was that it used to be more hype than results, but that hasn’t been the case this season.

For a Bulls team that entered the season talking about making the playoffs, very little has gone right. When a team starts 13-24, it seldom does. The list of people to blame is long and starts at the top.

Just don’t include Dunn in that. Sure, his outside shooting remains an issue and likely always will be. But if defense is Dunn’s art form, then this season has been his masterpiece.

‘‘Yes, sir, absolutely,’’ Bulls guard Coby White yelled when Dunn was asked whether he deserved All-Defensive consideration with his play so far.

Dunn laughed.

‘‘The people have spoken,’’ he said, nodding in White’s direction. ‘‘The people speak.’’

So do the numbers:

• Through Monday, Dunn was notching a steal on 3.9 percent of opponents’ possessions. That was tops in the league among players who have logged at least 200 minutes this season.

• Only the 76ers’ Ben Simmons (78) had more steals than Dunn (74), and he had played nearly 400 more minutes.

• The Bulls’ defense was 5.2 points stingier per 100 possessions with Dunn on the court than with him sitting.

•  Finally, opposing teams were turning the ball over on 18.8 percent of their possessions with Dunn on the court, compared with 16.7 percent of their possessions with him on the bench.

It all has come together for Dunn, and the explanation is simple in his mind.

‘‘Even more locked in, I think,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘I’ve been in the league four years now. Starting to get more comfortable and starting to understand what other players like to do and understand their tendencies.’’

Then there’s the mental game. Dunn always has tried to get into an opponent’s head, but he has taken it to the next level — physically and mentally — this season.

Ask Hawks guard Trae Young, whom Dunn has shut down in two meetings this season.

‘‘I’ve been guarding my whole life,’’ Dunn said. ‘‘I know when somebody is kind of fearful. I can see it, I can smell it and I just try and act on it.’’

Coach Jim Boylen can see it, too.

‘‘When people turn their back, when people try and dance by him with the ball, now that’s a dangerous proposition,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘What he’s done better this year, to me, is he’s playing smarter with these guys. He’s understanding when and where and the rhythm of the game. When a guy is in rhythm, he is understanding how to break him out.

‘‘That’s the next level. Can you intelligently be a stopper, not just a tough-minded guy that plays hard? But I want him to be both.’’

Especially March 2. That’s the date of Dunn’s rematch with Doncic — and a chance to see who bites whom.

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