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Welcome Home, Brooklyn Nets

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Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Nets played a game at Barclays Center was February 12 vs. Charlotte, a 105-89 win. That was 19 days ago.  Then, it was a loss to the Bulls in Chicago, the All-Star Break and the six-game 11-day "circus road trip." Back then, Jason Collins was a gay athlete looking for work and Marcus Thornton was in the Kings' doghouse.

Long time gone.

Now, as they return from Milwaukee after winning four of six games on the circus trip, they will face the Bulls, a team that seems to have their number. In fact, with the Knicks continuing to lose, it's not an exaggeration to say Brooklyn and Chicago are developing a rivalry.  But for a rivalry to be real, it has to be somewhat even, and this one isn't.  After losing the first round of the playoffs last season, the Nets have lost both games to the Bulls this season, one by 16, one by 17.

The Bulls arrive in Brooklyn 21-8 since January 1, the Nets only slightly worse at 18-8, which is their best start of a calendar year since 2002.

Of course, the other big prize besides beating the Bulls and moving closer to third seed is a .500 record. The last time the Nets were .500 was November 5. The Nets have never had a winning record this season. So it's fair to say this is the Nets' biggest game since they faced --and beat-- the Heat in the second game of the season.

Also, it's going also Collins 98 night at Barclays. Collins will make his New York debut after being signed a week ago. Expect a lot of those top-selling uniform jerseys to show up at Flatbush and Atlantic.

The season so far

What's the story here? The numbers will help tell the tale:

Metric

Brooklyn

Chicago

Record

28-29 33-26

Pace

94.1 93.2

Offensive Efficiency

103.8 98.4

Defensive Efficiency

104.7 97.7

Offensive Rebounding percentage

22.3 28.5

Turnover rate

13.9 14.8

Assist rate

16.6 17,8

Rebound rate

47.8 52.4

Free throw rate

23.5 21.8

Effective Field Goal percentage

50.1 46.6

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.5 47.3

The Nets will have an extra day rest when the two meet.  The Bulls defeated the Knicks Sunday afternoon and then flew to New York.

The Nets expect to have everyone back, other than Brook Lopez, of course. Back spasms are the stated reason for Kevin Garnett's absence vs. the Bucks, but it's more likely to have been rest.  Deron Williams was applying ice to his sore right wrist after the game and Joe Johnson continues to deal with nagging knee and finger issues.

The Bulls like the Nets have lost their top scorer, Derrick Rose, for the season.  Joakim Noah, who had a monster game vs. the Knicks Sunday,  turned his ankle late in the game, but returned to finish his 13-point, 12-rebound, and 14-assist masterpiece.

Player to Watch: Joakim Noah

Noah is the Nets' nemesis. He plays with abandon. He loves drubbing the Nets and he is playing at a very, very high level.  It's not just the scoring or the rebounding.  As he proved to the Knicks, it's his BBIQ, as exhibited in his passing. Over the past 10 games, he's averaging 7.4 assists.  Three times in the 10-game stretch, he's had 10 or more.  He's shooting 53 percent over those 10 games and averaging close to 13 rebounds

He plays through injuries on a regular basis. So don't expect him to sit Monday at Barclays Center.

From the Vault:

In the 1998 playoffs, with the Nets putting up a good fight but down 2-0, the Bulls needed one win to extend the first round.  Michael Jordan would have none of it, scoring 38 points on 16-of-22 shooting and taunting whatever Net guarded him.

More reading: Blog-a-Bull