The Chicago Bulls can point to a banged-up roster as one reason they've lost three straight, but a growing injured list has yet to derail the NBA's hottest team.
The Dallas Mavericks already have three road wins against Eastern Conference playoff contenders during their 10-game winning streak, and they'll look for a fourth as they visit the struggling Bulls on Saturday night.
Although guard Jason Terry was beginning a two-week recovery from facial surgery and newly acquired center Brendan Haywood missed the final three quarters of Friday's game against Sacramento due to back issues, Dallas still extended its longest winning streak of the season with a 108-100 victory.
The Mavericks (42-21) benefited from an unsurprising 31-point, 12-rebound effort by Dirk Nowitzki, but were also buoyed by a career-high 22 points off the bench from rookie Roddy Beaubois.
"Roddy did a great job for us being that energy plug that (Terry) usually is and hitting some big shots," Nowitzki said of the Guadeloupe native.
None of Dallas' wins during its run have come by more than 10 points, and its last eight have come by single digits, but despite the lack of blowout victories, the Mavs have put together their longest winning streak since they won 17 in a row from Jan. 27-March 11, 2007.
They trailed the Kings by double digits in the first half but took the lead for good by outscoring Sacramento 33-19 during the third quarter.
"When you're on a streak like this, everybody's gunning for you, everybody wants to be the team to take you down," said Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, who was ejected in the second quarter. "So you're going to get everybody's best game. We've had some slow starts, but it's something we've been able to overcome many times."
The Mavs have already beaten Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte on the road during the streak, improving to 11-3 at East venues this season.
They are also missing center Erick Dampier and forward Tim Thomas, and they could be somewhat thin in the middle if Haywood cannot return Saturday.
But the Bulls (31-30) have also had a difficult time inside without top rebounder Joakim Noah, who is dealing with plantar fasciitis. Noah has missed each of Chicago's three straight losses, with the Bulls getting outrebounded by a combined 109-68 in the last two.
"We have to get bodies on people and be more physical," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after a 105-96 home loss to Memphis on Thursday. "You have to control the tempo of the game and get more baskets. Everyone has to be more physical and get more loose balls."
As one of five teams jockeying for the final four playoff spots in the East, the Bulls can't afford a continued slip. A turnaround may be difficult with top scorers Derrick Rose and Luol Deng playing through sore knees and Chicago's next seven games against teams currently at or over .500.
"It's not time to panic," Deng said. "We've got 21 games left. We've got to play with a lot more energy than (Thursday), especially in the second half."
The Bulls' challenging stretch includes two games against the Mavericks, with the team traveling to Dallas on March 17.
While the Bulls have dropped 18 of 21 to Dallas since Michael Jordan's departure, Chicago gave the Mavs trouble last season, beating them 98-91 at home on Nov. 13, 2008.
Nowitzki was held to 12 points in that game, but he bounced back with a 44-point effort in the Mavs' 115-114 overtime win in Dallas on Feb. 7, 2009.