With a victory Saturday night, the Bulls would have won five games on a road trip for the first time in 12 years.
Of more significance, however, was an apparent turning point for a team that appeared dysfunctional and disjointed just two weeks ago.
That the Bulls lost to the Mavericks 115-114 in a bitterly fought overtime game should not obscure what they achieved. No moral victories, just progress.
"The guys battled and worked hard on the trip, and it's just tough not to get rewarded," Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said afterward. "I thought we played well enough to get another win on the road, but we didn't convert when we needed to."
And simply, they could not stop perennial All-Star Dirk Nowitzki when they had to.
The 7-foot Nowitzki, who missed nine of his first 10 shots, finished with 44 points, including 14 in overtime on 5-of-7 shooting, most in close. Jose Barea, generously listed at 6 feet, did most of the damage from the outside, finishing with 20 points.
And old pro Jason Kidd, who finished with 10 assists, waited until the final 13 seconds of regulation before striking, then hit a three-pointer to send the game into overtime.
Still, what happened on this trip was nothing short of a transformation as the Bulls passed better, shot better and consistently defended better. But occasional sloppiness in the form of six third-quarter turnovers, which allowed a four-point lead to evaporate into a five-point deficit, reminded the Bulls they have not gotten over the hump.
"We're disappointed," Del Negro said. "We should have won. We had opportunities. We had some mistakes, too many turnovers on the road. We had been doing a better job.
"You can't give up a three at the end, and we have to convert on the offensive end when we have opportunities. It's a tough one to swallow."
Trailing 90-89 with 4 minutes 4 seconds left in regulation, Kirk Hinrich hit a pull-up jumper. Derrick Rose (22 points, nine assists) followed on the next possession with an acrobatic drive to give the Bulls a three-point cushion with 3:28 to go.
Among the many transgressions the Bulls have been guilty of this season has been their inability to finish. But Thomas tipped a rebound free after an errant drive by Andres Nocioni, allowing Rose to hit a jumper in a lane full of bodies with 26.7 seconds left in regulation to give the Bulls a 97-94 lead.
But that's when Kidd answered the kid with his tying three-pointer.
With a foul to give, Kidd fouled Rose with 5.7 seconds left, and on the ensuing inbound play, Rose missed on a runner at the buzzer to force overtime.
In overtime, a pair of free throws by Thomas pulled the Bulls to 107-103 with 1:02 left, but Nowitzki hit his fifth shot in overtime to give the Mavs a six-point lead with 22.3 seconds left. Nocioni, Thomas and Gordon all hit threes after that, but Nowitzki's four free throws sealed it.
"There were times when Dirk was shooting," Joakim Noah said, "that I was like, 'There's no way he's going to shoot.' I felt like I was right on him. And he was just making shots that I don't think anybody in the NBA can make. He has such a different game than everybody else. It's hard to explain unless you're out there guarding him."