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Nets, Lopez Finish 2014 With a Bang; Blow by Bulls in the Windy City, 96-82

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Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Brooklyn Nets were winners in four of their last five with Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee leading the charge. It's perhaps the best basketball the Nets have played all season, which is a good thing. Since seven of the next 10 games against teams with winning records. The 10-game voyage, which may tell us a lot about this Nets team, began Tuesday night in Chicago, where the Nets were up against the Bulls in the second game of a back-to-back. They got it done without Kevin Garnett, who sat due to rest.

The Nets snapped the Bulls' seven game win streak thanks to another big second quarter effort that saw Brooklyn outscore Chicago 31-14 behind 30-first half points from Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, who made a lot of fans forget the previous 30 games of the season!

The second quarter outbursts are new. This comes one night after the Nets outscored the Sacramento Kings 30-16 in the second quarter of Monday's 107-99 victory in Brooklyn. They topped the Bulls, 96-82, with the 82 points  the franchise's fewest allowed since 2004!  Individually, Derrick Rose finished 2-of-15 and scored four points, while Jimmy Butler went 3-of-12, scoring eight points. So the vaunted Bulls backcourt tallied 12 points on 27 shots.

As for Johnson and Lopez's offensive outburst, well, that's somewhat new, too. It's just the third time this season that the two have both scored 20+ points each.

It was just a peep of excellence from Lopez, who started for the first time since December 5th vs. Atlanta, before going down with a back injury, then being relegated to the bench. He scored a season-high 29 points and blocked two shots, grabbing only five rebounds in 33 minutes of action. The rebounding wasn't the concern. We finally saw the Brook Lopez the Nets have been looking for this season, the same Lopez that was an All-Star two seasons ago. His offensive game wasn't limited; He was stretching the floor by hitting nine of his attempted 13 jump shots and 13 of his 21 total field goal attempts. He was also working the paint, hitting on 6-of-8 inside the paint.

The turning point may have been when Aaron Brooks was ejected in the second quarter. They jumped out to an immediate 9-0 run, followed up with a 7-0 run that pulled their lead up to 10 heading into halftime. This was all being done with Jarrett Jack and Deron Williams on a combined 1-of-12 shooting. This was disregarded thanks to Williams' defense. D-Will forced Derrick Rose to commit three consecutive turnovers which gave the Nets a 20-4 scoring advantage through the first eight minutes of the quarter.

Then, they scored 29 points in the third quarter which carried over into the fourth with an 8-2 run to give them a 21 point lead with 8:40 remaining. The Nets allowed Chicago to shoot 60% from the field in the first quarter, but that number dropped to 38.4% by game's end.

Joe Johnson was also a key factor to the big victory. He scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds on 8-for-13 shooting. The Bulls really had no answer for him.

Derrick Rose was quite the opposite. The Bulls' point guard, whose played the Nets just once since their move to Brooklyn, was held to four points, five assists and four turnovers on 2-of-15 shooting. Credit to Brooklyn's defense, who nabbed nine steals and forced Chicago to turn the ball over 13 times.

As mentioned, credit to Brooklyn's D. Other than Mike Dunleavy, who went off for 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting, Joakim Noah (12 points) and Paul Gasol (10 points) were the only other Chicago players in double figures. Like Rose, Jimmy Butler struggled to find his shot. He scored eight points on a horrid 3-for-12 shooting.

The Nets as a whole shot 43.4% from the field and 43% from three. They received a big jolt from Jarrett Jack (11 points) and the Nets bench led by Alan Anderson (11 points). Deron Williams finished the night just 1-of-8 from the field, but grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists that added to his aggressive defensive game.

The Nets have won five of their last six games. They travel to Florida this Friday to face off against the Orlando Magic.

Remember this game, it's certainly the best game Brooklyn has played up to this point of the season.

Said Lopez matter-of-factly: "Beating the Bulls shows what we can do."

"To come into a hostile environment like this against a team like the Bulls and come up with a victory, it says a lot," said Johnson.

"They missed a bunch of shots and we made enough," Lionel Hollins said. "Tonight, versus a quality opponent, we got a win. I'm happy to get the win and close out the year."

The Bulls coach basically said his team lost its cool.

"We have to have the presence of mind to nderstand if it’s not going well then we have to change it up, and maybe not settle,’’ Tom Thibodeau said.

Quarter by quarter summary:

First quarter ... The Nets and Bulls started off the game with a unique pep in their step, a rather fast-paced first quarter that saw Chicago in the lead for most of the way. Mike Dunleavy was a big reason for their early success. He hit on five of his first seven shots which gave him 12 points in the quarter, causing havoc on the defensive end for Sergey Karasev and the Nets.

It also didn't help that Mason Plumlee picked up a second foul, causing him to sit earlier than usual. It was all a factor in Chicago's 31-24 lead after the first quarter. They also shot 60% from the field compared to Brooklyn's 35.7%. Considering the opposite shooting numbers, the Nets were reluctant to be down just seven.

Second quarter ... Early in the quarter, Aaron Brooks' temper increased to the point of no return. For some unclassified reason, Brooks picked up two technical fouls which resulted in his ejection. The Nets took all the momentum from that point on, regaining a two point lead after a 9-0 run.

Deron Williams' defense was a main reason for the Nets doing so. He forced three consecutive turnovers from Derrick Rose, which helped the Nets build on their lead. On the offensive side, he was a poor 1-of-7 from the field, which really didn't mean much with the importance of his D. It was a 20-4 advantage for Brooklyn through eight minutes, which gave them their largest lead of the half at nine.

They outscored the Bulls 31-14 in the second quarter, despite Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack shooting a combined 1-of-12 from the field. It was Brook Lopez (14 points) and Joe Johnson (16 points, six rebounds) that put the Nets up double digits heading into the half. As for Chicago's 60% first quarter shooting, well, that was down to 38% after the second quarter.

The score at the half: Nets 55, Bulls 45.

Third quarter ... The numbers spoke volume. Derrick Rose was 2-for-14, Joakim Noah and Paul Gasol were the only other Bull besides Dunleavy in double figures and Brook Lopez was absolutely torching Chicago on their home court. Lopez's offensive game was nothing short of perfect, scoring 25 points in 26 minutes of action on 10-for-16 shooting. This is the Lopez the Nets have been looking for, with his offensive game ranging from post moves down low to jump shots hovering the perimeter. He brought the full package.

The Nets finished the quarter with a 29-24 scoring advantage and an 84-69 lead heading into the fourth. They ended the quarter with a bang, after Mirza Teletovic -- who was in clear pain -- dished an alley-oop lob to Mason Plumlee as time expired.

Fourth quarter ... The Nets notched their biggest lead of the night at 21 followed an 8-2 run to start the quarter. With 8:20 remaining, they stayed consistent with their gameplan and held the Bulls to just 13 points in the quarter. Their effort was enough to escape with a big double digit victory, their fifth win in the last six games.

Final score: Nets 96, Bulls 82.

For more on the Chicago Bulls, check them out at Blog a Bull.