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Bulls outshoot, overwhelm Mavericks, flexing long-range muscle

The Bulls’ offense already had a high rating even though their three-point shooting had been a weak point. But against the Mavs, they lit it up from deep and left the rest up to their reliable defense.

It was the black eye that wouldn’t go away during the early part of the season.

Billy Donovan’s Bulls entered the game last in the league in three-pointers attempted per game (26.9) and made per game (9.5).

Then Wednesday happened.

Led by Lonzo Ball going 7-for-10 from three-point range, the Bulls shot the Mavericks out of the United Center 117-107. Their chaotic defensive attack was a big factor, especially late in the third quarter, but the Bulls (8-3) also showed off the ability to strike from long range, finishing 15-for-31 on threes.

They came into the game tied for sixth in offensive rating, so that number could get even better if they become more consistent from outside. That could get scary for opposing defenses.

“Where we are right now would be about 25th in the league [last season],’’ Donovan said of the offensive rating. “Points are down. I’m not trying to be negative. When the season starts, generally team defense is ahead of the offense, and offenses have a chance to progress. But I do think we can get better. Zach [LaVine], because he has dealt with his thumb issue, hasn’t shot the ball at the level he’s capable of. [Nikola Vucevic] has not shot the ball [well], so there’s some upside there with those two guys.’’

LaVine only took two threes and made both, and Vucevic went 1-for-3 from long range, but he did go 8-for-14 overall for 18 points.

But it was Ball’s long-range marksmanship and Alex Caruso’s defense that doomed the Mavericks (7-4).

“It was a good [defensive effort],’’ Caruso said. “I just tried to be aggressive. I try to play my role. I think that’s the great thing about our team — we have bench guys that can do a lot of different things.’’

That’s why Donovan was optimistic about his team moving forward, especially on offense.

“We haven’t shot well from three,’’ Donovan said. “I do think free throws are down, three-point shooting percentages across the league are down, so that’s going to impact [offensive rating]. There is an upside for us offensively. I wouldn’t want to sit here and say, ‘Wow, we’re doing great offensively because of where our rating is right now.’ I think we can be better, play better, perform better. When we get out and play faster and the ball moves, that’s when we’re at our best. I do think there is a lot of growth we can make [offensively].’’

It’s what they do defensively that remains the “it” factor, and it was on display late in the third quarter.

A three-pointer by Luka Doncic with 4:28 left in the third, cut the Bulls’ lead to four. Caruso had an answer, however, and then some. Over the rest of the quarter, he sparked the Bulls to a 15-point lead.

The super sub had 11 points in just under six minutes that quarter and nabbed two of his career-high six steals.

The Bulls held Doncic to 20 points, five below his average.

“We got aggressive and got up into the ball and into the passing lanes [in the third quarter],’’ Donovan said.

“Against an elite scorer like [Doncic], sometimes you’re at the mercy of [his] shot-making ability. He’s a tough-shot maker, and I thought our guys worked incredibly hard on him.’’