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Nets match last season’s win total with a 122-117 victory over Bulls

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NBA: Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — A win is a win, but boy this was a lot more difficult than it needed to be.

Despite the Chicago Bulls (11-40) tanking this season and the Brooklyn Nets (28-24) striving for the playoffs, this game was much closer than you’d think. The Nets never led by more than eight points in this game and that came with 40 seconds left in the game. Final score: 122-117.

Behind a 30-point effort from D’Angelo Russell, the Nets won its ninth straight game at Barclays Center and 13 of the last 14. It was also their 20th win in the last 26 games dating back to December 6. The six-seed Nets improved to 28-24 on the season. The win total matches last season with 30 games to go.

It was the 11th time DLo had scored 20+ points this month. It was also the second time this month —and fifth time this season— that Russell went an entire game without turning the ball over. His two three’s gave him 50 for the month, a new Nets record.

The Nets were unable to shake the Bulls. They shot just 36 percent at half and trailed by four with DLo struggling. They were depleted, missing Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jared Dudley, Allen Crabbe and Dzanan Musa. They were also playing the second night of a back-to-back, so it’s sort of understandable.

They turned it up a notch in the third quarter, when Russell dropped 13 points and led the Nets to a 33-point quarter — four-point lead entering the fourth. They stayed afloat most of the fourth, but it was a little too close for comfort.

Two free throws from Joe Harris put them up eight with under a minute remaining. Yes, anti-climatic. Yes, appropriate.

Shabazz Napier finished with 24 points off the bench, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson chipped in 18 points and DeMarre Carroll 11. Harris was the only other starter in double figures with 17 points. They shot 45 percent from the field and a putrid 28.6 percent from three. To their credit, they only turned the ball over eight times.

For Chicago, Zach LaVine led with 26 points.

It wasn’t pretty and it didn’t have to be. A win is a win and the Brooklyn Nets are a playoff team on the rise. Let’s see how they handle San Antonio on Thursday.

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PLAYOFF RACE

The Nets lost zero ground following Monday’s loss to the Celtics. They remained 1 12 games above the Heat and two above the Hornets. They did, however, fall to 4 12 games out of the fifth seed. Had they won Monday, they would’ve been 2 12 back. Oh well.

Moreover, the Nets are now five and a half games ahead of the ninth seed. That’s big. Also, ESPN now projects the Nets chances of making the playoffs at better than 93 percent.

Wow.

RISING STARS RISE

Midway through the game, the team announced that Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs will become the 19th and 20th Nets to play in the rookie-sophomore game, now known as the Rising Stars Game. Allen will play for the United States team while Kurucs will play for the World team.

Post-game, the two joked about playing against each other in Charlotte on All-Star Weekend, which takes place February 15-17. Allen warned Kurucs not to try to get past him and Kurucs said he won’t be deterred by his teammate’s threat.

“Me and Rodi were talking about it. He’s going to try to dunk on me, so I’m going to show him what happens if he tries,” Allen said.

“He said he’ll block me, but I said, ‘Hell no,’” Kurucs retorted.

It was the third time in team history that two players were selected for the contest. In 2002, Kenyon Martin and Stephen Jackson made the squad and thirteen years later, it was Mason Plumlee and Bojan Bogdanovic.

Allen and Kurucs will be the only rookies or sophomores from New York heading to Charlotte. No Knicks were selected.

DLO’S MATURITY

D’Angelo Russell sat the final 8:52 of Monday’s 112-104 loss to the Celtics. He led the team with 25 points and only logged 24 minutes, begging the obvious question: Why bench him in such a winnable game?

“It was rebounding in the zone, there were some rebounds he could’ve gotten... It was a teachable moment,” said Kenny Atkinson.

The most important part about all of this wasn’t the loss. It wasn’t the benching nor the reasoning for it. It was Russell’s answer, which was unsolicited and showed tremendous growth and maturity.

“He’s got us this far so I’m trusting his moves. I missed a rebound, 50-50 play that set him off a little bit. I’ve got to be better, something I’ve got to think about going into the next one. We need those play.”

CATCHING UP WITH THE CREEKS

I caught up with the ever-so-humble Creeks prior to the game and here’s what Mitch’s mom told me, “No matter what happens after these 10 days, he did it. He achieved his dream and proved so many people back home wrong.”

That’s all you need to know about how they feel about this kids journey. It’s special.

DINWIDDIE’S LIVE-GAME TWEETING

Dinwiddie does it all both on and off the court. He’s currently out 3-6 weeks according to Woj, but that won’t stop him from tweeting during games. He’s become the Tony Romo of Nets Twitter.

Yes, he heard us...

For another perspective from the center of America’s Antarctica, head on over to Blog-a-Bull, our sister site on SB Nation.

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Next up: Nets @ Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday, 8:30pm ET.