Considering Sacramento beat Miami on Friday, an argument can be made that every team in the NBA's Western Conference is better than every team in the East.
The Bulls had won two in a row but weren't ready for Saturday night's step up in competition. After falling behind Dallas by 32 points, a fourth-quarter surge proved futile as the Bulls lost 105-83 at the United Center.
By winning on Christmas Day in Brooklyn, the Bulls produced back-to-back victories for the first time since Derrick Rose was injured on Nov. 22. This wasn't the Cavaliers or the Nets, though, on the visiting side.
"Right when you're feeling too good about yourself, somebody smacks you," Taj Gibson said. "That's part of the NBA. You've just got to bounce back, but we've got to do our job."
Dallas (17-13) showed the value of having a bunch of old guys who can put the ball in the basket. Guard Monta Ellis led the Mavs with 22 points, while Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Shawn Marion -- with a combined age of 106 -- contributed 50 points for Dallas.
Usually, scoring points was as simple as setting a screen for Ellis, causing a defensive switch, and then taking advantage of the mismatch. "They're a terrific offensive team," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "If they get their confidence early, you're in for a long night."
The Mavs started the game by going 2-for-12 from the field, then turned it around and knocked down 10 of their next 11 shots to take a 30-19 lead after one quarter. The lead grew to 59-30 by late in the second quarter.
Things were going so bad for the Bulls, they built a 13-3 edge in fouls committed, while Dallas drained 7 of its first 9 shots from 3-point range. Fouling jump shooters never produces a positive outcome.
"The defense initially, I thought was pretty good," said Thibodeau, who picked up a technical foul in the second quarter. "We got called for some fouls, and I thought we softened up. When we softened up, they got rhythm.
"We can't do that. We have to play hard without fouling. Usually, we're very good with that."
Thibodeau didn't buy the idea that Eastern Conference competition left the Bulls ill-prepared for facing a team from the West. The loss left the Bulls 1-8 against teams from the West.
"The Western Conference has a lot of good teams, but the same things go into winning," he said. "You have to defend. We're a great rebounding team, and we didn't rebound tonight. We didn't challenge shots the way we could have. We hurt ourselves tonight, and we have to correct that."
The Bulls (11-17) also could use a few more shot-makers. Jimmy Butler went 2-for-10 from the field and was limping badly in the locker room after aggravating the turf-toe injury on his right foot. Rookie Tony Snell missed all 8 of his shots.
Joakim Noah led the Bulls with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Trailing 86-56 after three quarters, the Bulls scored the first 16 points of the fourth to close within 14 points, but the comeback stopped there.
"We've just got to do the job. Listen to Thibs, listen to what he wants to do," Gibson said. "At the end of the day, if he gives us an order, we've got to do it. We can't be frustrated about the calls. We've just got to go out there and get it done."