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Looking for seventh straight win, Nets head to Windy City

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NBA: All Star Saturday Night Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Now THAT, ladies and gentlemen, was a good old-fashioned win. The Nets took down Lebron and the Lakers 115-110 on Tuesday night, fighting their way to a sixth straight win as they continue to look as good as any Nets team has looked in a long, long time. They braced a vintage LeBron James, who somehow still had 36 points 13 rebounds and 8 assists while playing 41 minutes in the loss. Winning a big nationally televised game —NBA TV—with celebrities —Sterling K Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. for starters— in the stands and NBA Twitter tuned in is a good look for this Brooklyn squad as they continue to show the league they aren’t going to be pushovers anymore.

The Nets are in Chicago for this next one to face one of the worst and most dysfunctional teams in the league. The Bulls are dealing with a bad roster, some lingering injury issues, and a bizarre coaching change that almost resulted in a mutiny over practice of all things. It isn’t too stable over there in the Windy City, and the Nets will look to take advantage of that as they try for a seventh straight win in the second half of this back to back matchup.

Where To Follow The Game

YES and WFAN have this one at 8:00 pm, ET.

Injuries

Caris Levert (foot) and Treveon Graham (hamstring) are still out while Allen Crabbe missed another game with his knee injury. Dzanan Musa (shoulder) has just started recovering.

Zach Lavine (ankle) missed the last two Bulls games but could return for this one. Jabari Parker (illness) missed the last game and got hit with a DNP in the one before it as the Bulls try to deal their disappointing $20 million man. Denzel Valentine (ankle) is out for the season.

The Game

If D’Angelo Russell’s match-up with the Lakers last season was a disappointment, this one was a triumph. Putting up a Magic Johnson-esque 22 points and 13 assists, it was his second straight game where he looked like one of the better points guards in the league. He was pressing a little bit in the first half, but he was hitting some strange but wonderful shots so it was forgivable. As the game went on his role began to feel more natural, and that dagger he hit from three at the end of the game must have felt amazing as his former team watched their chances of winning slip away. Revenge man, it’s sweet.

The Bulls are bad, tanking, and shouldn’t pose too much of a threat even though this Brooklyn squad is very much still capable of losing to bad teams, especially on the road end of a back-to-back. I wouldn’t call this a scheduled loss, but it is for sure a potential trap game.

If Zach Lavine does play he poses a legitimate scoring threat with his 23.8 points per game. He’s not great from three but his explosiveness makes him tough to guard. Still, he could be hampered a bit by the ankle injury he’s been dealing with. He’s just 23, and when you can average the same amount of points as your age it’s impressive. This isn’t really a measuring stick for anything or useful at all, but it’s just a weird true thing. An 18-year-old rookie averaging 18 points? Impressive. A 32-year-old veteran averaging 32 points? Impressive! Moving on.

Jabari Parker has been mentioned as a trade candidate after falling out of favor with head coach Jim Boylen who looks just like my middle school guidance counselor ... but is probably worse at managing a room of NBA-sized egos. It’s not like Jabari is great, and it’s unlikely we see much of him in this one, but he’s a serviceable player on a team where he is no worse than the sixth worst player. Would I do an Allen Crabbe for Jabari swap? Absolutely, even if it means giving up the Denver pick. Getting off of Crabbe’s $18.5 million next season would be huge. Would Sean Marks, a man of great patience, do it? Almost certainly not. Still, there was a single report back in September that the Nets were willing to give him $16 million.

The Nets’ win against the Lakers had something in common with the win against the Hawks although the two were very different games: contributions from all over the roster. Six Nets scored in double digits (after Sunday’s contest when there were eight in double figures), and besides Dlo leading the way, a lot of guys looked terrific. DeMarre Carroll was hitting some shots from deep going 3-of-7. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was playing as hard as he ever has and put up a solid 17 points with eight boards and hit enough late free throws to put the game away. And Jared Dudley decided to do his best Mariano Rivera impression and close out the game which was absolutely delightful to watch. He ended up with 13 points and 5 rebounds and has looked really great the last two games in general.

A lot of fans were calling for Dudley’s head earlier in the season because he wasn’t producing the stats you might expect from a starter, plus he’s the oldest player on the whole roster at 33 (not that old, honestly. You’d think this guy is like 40 the way people talk about him). When guys get to this stage in their careers they oftentimes stop playing hard due to lack of motivation and an already fat bank account, but Dudley is engaged and energetic and positive and it’s all been working for him lately. I joked the other day that he’s one of the best assistant coaches in the NBA, especially after that players-only film session he organized. He’s not going to score 10+ points in every contest, but it’s inarguable that his impact on this team is anything but positive. Kenny Atkinson’s gamble giving a leadership role early in the season rather than burying him on the bench is really paying off.

Chicago is dead last in the league in Offensive Rating at 99.5 and also last in Net Rating at -10.8 which is Not Good. They score an average of 101.2 points per game, again last in the league compared to the Nets 14th ranked 111.0. Chicago is better on defense, tied with the Nets with 41.5 opponent field goals made per game, but they don’t take away the three as well as Brooklyn, ranking 27th in Opponent Threes Made per game. Kenny’s defense still ranks first in that category, only allowing 9.3 makes on 26.3 attempts. The perimeter defense and overall scheme has been a lot better than it gets credit for.

A win here would be the second straight win on the second half of a back-to-back for the Nets after beating the Knicks last week, which would be a major development considering their woeful record going back years. Their schedule has been lighter of late, so hopefully getting on a plane for this one won’t throw them off course too much. It’s always tough winning one of these. It’ll be so fun if the streak continues though.

The Streak

IF THE NETS WIN...

—A seven-game winning streak would be the team’s longest since January 2013, the Nets first season in Brooklyn.

—The Nets own the longest active winning streak in the league (no other team in the East is in the midst of a winning streak longer than two games).

—It would be Brooklyn’s season-best third straight road win. The Nets haven’t won three straight on the road since the 2014-15 season (3/21 – 4/1/15), and the team’s longest road winning streak in the Brooklyn era is three games (done six times).

—It would be the Nets’ fourth straight win over the Bulls, which would mark their longest winning streak over the Bulls since 12/23/03 – 11/5/05 (franchise-record eight straight wins over Chicago). The Nets swept the Bulls last season for the first time since 2004-05 (average margin of victory: 18.0).

Player To Watch

I’m doubling up here and declaring the Bulls Frontcourt, Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., the players to watch. The Bulls aren’t good yet, but Markkanen (21) and Carter (19) make up one of the better young frontcourts in the game right now. Both are fluid, versatile players who can play both inside and out. Markkanen, who missed the first part of the season due to an elbow injury and lost to Spencer Dinwiddie in last years Skills Challenge, is a sneaky 7-footer while Carter has a really great NBA body. These two are either going to be building blocks for the next good Bulls team, or demand a ton in a trade down the road. The Nets struggle with talented big men, so we’ll see how these two fare in this one.

From The Vault

Here’s a recap of that Skills Challenge which was the most fun I’ve had rooting for an All-Star Weekend event maybe ever. Spencer getting that W and some recognition league-wide was a ton of fun.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Blog-a-Bull for the weeping and gnashing of teeth as well as some laughs.