Nets No Match For Bulls; Lose: 92-76

Jonathan Daniel

As the Nets go into the All-Star break, they began their gruesome 7-game road trip tonight in Chicago.

Entering tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls, the Brooklyn Nets found themselves winners of 4 out of their last 5 games and 14 of their last 19 stretching back to January 1. But The team arrived in Chicago during the darkest stage of the night Thursday —around 3 a.m. Chicago time, hours after defeating the Charlotte Bobcats in Brooklyn and just ahead of the snow.  It was the first of the Nets seven game road trip and their last game before the All-Star break.

The Nets lost, 92-76, never quite mounting a comeback despite repeated attempts.

The Nets and Bulls have both been hot since the New Year hit. As a matter of fact, they're the hottest teams in the NBA. Despite their hot play, they usually struggle on the offensive end. Similar to what we saw in last year's playoffs, both struggled to get into a rhythm early. For the Nets, Shaun Livingston got them going, scoring the team's first seven points. Other than Livingston, Brooklyn struggled to execute. Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Deron Williams shot a combined 2-9 in the early going. Clearly the Bulls' defensive intensity was a lot for the three to handle. Meanwhile, the Bulls scoring early was balanced. Every starter had a bucket, while Taj Gibson chipped in five early points.

Another good rebounding team, another bad start on the boards for Brooklyn. Joakim Noah single handedly out-rebounded the Nets 6-5, while the Bulls out-rebounded the Nets 15-5 after one quarter. It was looking ugly for the Nets. Remember how we stated the Bulls struggle on the offensive end? Yeah, well, not tonight.

As the second quarter got underway, Jason Kidd finally installed a lineup that prevented so many second-chance points.  It didn't work. They were still getting beat on the boards, down 24-15 on the glass after 24 minutes of play. As the quarter wound down, the Nets began inching their way back into the game, only to see Taj Gibson once again end their mini run, extending the Bulls lead back up to 10. Gibson led all scorers in the half with 12 points on 5-8 shooting. The high energy of the Bulls, and tired legs of the Nets was the difference maker in the first half. With their poor play, the Nets were lucky to be down just 49-41 at the half.

Despite not grabbing a single offensive rebound in the half and not having any player in double digits, Brooklyn was reluctant to go down easily. The Nets offense got off to fast start. They scored eight quick points in the first three minutes of the third, forcing Tom Thibodeau to call an early timeout. Minutes later, the Nets found themselves down nine. It was when that we saw a rather unfamiliar scene. Joe Johnson got into a mini altercation with Jimmy Butler, resulting in a double technical. Oftentimes a little tussle is exactly what a team needs to gain some energy. For the Nets, it did the opposite. After the Bulls' early timeout, they locked down.

After three quarters of play, Paul Pierce led the Nets with 15 points, while Mike Dunleavy led the Bulls with 14. Joakim Noah was inching closer to a double-double going into the fourth, with 8 points & 11 rebounds. Still,  going into the fourth quarter, they were down by only eight: 69-61.

The larger issue was rebounding. Coming into the fourth quarter the Bulls had the Nets out-rebounded 34-20, proving once again the Nets small lineup is weakness. Halfway through the quarter, the Nets cut the lead down to three, after Andrei Kirilenko's first three pointer of the season, only to watch the lead go back up to six after a quick answer from D.J. Augustin.

The Nets found themselves down double-digits yet again with three minutes left in the game. Brooklyn's fatigue and Chicago's high energy resulted in a disappointing end to the first half of the season for the Nets. Their fight was gone and the game was over from that point on.

Paul Pierce led the Nets with 15, and Deron Williams added 13, but shot a poor 4-of-14. He added five assists in 42 minutes. Livingston who started fast, scored only three points after the first minutes of the first quarter to finish with 10. Mirza Teletovic, who simply couldn't handle Taj Gibson early, didn't see any burn for the rest of the night, winding up with one point.

Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 15 points and 10 rebounds, one of five Bulls toscore in double figures. The Nets were annihilated on the boards, 45-27.

The Nets had a chance to tie for the fifth seed.. Instead, they stand at the seventh seed going into the break. After the game, Johnson and Mason Plumlee left for New Orleans and the All-Star Weekend. Plumlee will play Saturday in the Rising Star Challenge Friday night.

"It’s definitely needed," said Williams. "I’m going to step away for a little bit and get my mind right more than anything."

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