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Brooklyn Nets open season vs. Chicago Bulls

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"We're back? We're back!"
"We're back? We're back!"
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

NBA back!  After a long summer break and a poor preseason, the Brooklyn Nets are finally playing games that count. The team has undergone a bunch of changes and will have to adjust to new players and new roles for the guys remaining from last year's team. They won't be in Barclays long as once this game wraps, they head down south for a quick back-to-back in San Antonio and Memphis.

Making the trip into the Barclays Center this evening will be the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are coming off a nice season that ended on a disastrous note with a blowout loss to Cleveland in Game Six of the Conference Semifinals. Bulls management used that loss to fire Tom Thibodeau and replace him with former Bull and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. This is the second half of their Opening Night back-to-back. They beat the Cleveland Cavs in an exciting 97-95 game last night in Chicago.

Where to follow the game

You won't have to worry about finding the Nets on TV for the time being. YES Network has got you covered on that front while WFAN 101.9 FM will have the game on the radio side. Tip off is scheduled for after 7:30.

DirecTV, Optimum and Time Warner Cable customers can also watch the Nets with the Fox Sports Go app.

Injuries

The Nets are well represented in this section. Willie Reed is out after spraining his thumb. Markel Brown has been out with an oblique injury, but could suit up tonight. Andrea Bargnani didn't play during the preseason thanks to a hamstring injury but has returned to practice and is questionable. Sergey Karasev has been dealing with a sore right knee and is questionable. Jarrett Jack is out with a tight hamstring. No word on his replacement.

For the Bulls, Mike Dunleavy Jr is out thanks to back surgery he underwent in late September. Derrick Rose broke a bone in his face after being inadvertently struck by an elbow on the first day of training camp. He came back at the end of the preseason and is able to play with no restrictions. Last night, Joakim Noah left the game due to a knee contusion. His status for tonight is unknown

The game

Thibodeau ran one of the league's best defenses when he coached the Bulls. Hoiberg is more of an offensive-minded coach and figures to use more rotations and player combinations than Thibs did. It'll take some time for Hoiberg to get fully acclimated to coaching in the NBA, so patience should be key for Bulls fans.

Fresh off his first trip to the All Star Game and a brand new max contract, Jimmy Butler is looking to become even better. He's taken on a bigger role in the offense each year he's been in the league and with Rose working his way back, he'll be the main feature of Chicago's offense. He's a good scorer in the low post, a capable three point shooter, and someone that can get shots for himself when the team's offense isn't flowing. All of that spells trouble for Joe Johnson and the Nets. The Nets perimeter situation is looking pretty dire, and Johnson will need to carry things for them with Bojan Bogdanovic recovering from an ankle sprain and a year of non-stop, high stakes basketball. Johnson is Brooklyn's second scoring option and they'll need him to make Butler work hard on the defensive end.

Point guard play is always crucial to a team's success, and both teams are questionable at the position. For the Nets, Jack appears to have won the point guard competition in camp, but he didn't play exceptionally well. Jack has never been much of a distributor at the point, and while the Nets are big fans of his leadership qualities, Jack is going to have to a better job of involving his teammates in the offense when he debuts this year. With him out, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan will run the offense. When Rose heads to the bench, Aaron Brooks will take over PG duties.

Player to watch: Pau Gasol

Gasol had a pretty interesting debut year with the Bulls. He was named to the All Star team, All NBA Second Team, and the Bulls struggled in the Conference Semifinals after he suffered a hamstring injury in Game Three. Despite the impressive numbers, all wasn't as it seemed. Last season, Kevin Ferrigan of Blog a Bull wrote:

Defensively, Gasol is an absolute trainwreck. Despite his heavy rebound totals, Gasol almost never boxes out anyone. His rebounding totals are primarily the result of his being around the rim for the vast majority of the game and catching whatever misses come off in his immediate vicinity. Pau's gaudy block totals result similarly. Gasol hardly ever leaves the immediate basket area to get out help contain penetration or to properly help rotate. Instead, Gasol hovers near the basket and, due to his height and reach, blocks a few shots here and there at the basket. Sure, there is some value in blocking those shots, but mostly Gasol hurts the defense in the same ways that Carlos Boozer once did (poor rotations, slow feet), without the value that Boozer provided in boxing people out and / or securing defensive rebounds.

With Joakim Noah moving to the bench and Nikola Mirotic taking his place in the starting five, the front court is likely to have trouble on defense. They should be excellent on offense though. Gasol is still a good scorer in the low post and a fine passer for his position while Mirotic was a member of the All Rookie team last year, a good three point shooter for his position, and someone the Bulls arguably should've played more. The rotations aren't set in stone, so when these teams play again on December 21, things might look different. And even as I say Pau might struggle on defense, he did manage to do this last night...

As the Blog a Bull article above noted, Gasol struggled against the better big men in the league last season. Brook Lopez is one of the league's better big men and Brooklyn's best player. Lopez is a versatile scorer that can get points in the low post, mid range, or in pick-and-roll situations. With the Nets big man situation already in dire straits and in trouble thanks to injury, the Nets need Lopez to have a big game. He's most effective when he's near the basket as he shot 62.8 percent inside of the restricted area last season and was a better rebounder than he was given credit for. If he can put the pressure on Gasol, the Nets will have a great chance of coming away with the upset victory.

From the Vault

Seven years ago today, Derrick Rose made his NBA debut.

More reading: Blog a Bull