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Nets face Bulls in Jacque Vaughn debut

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Brooklyn Nets All-Access Practice Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Didn’t expect to write that headline.

The Nets came off an easy, wire-to-wire win over the Spurs on Friday night looking good. Caris LeVert had his first career triple double of 27-10-11 and Dr J made his first appearance at Barclays Center. The big coaching news was that Kenny Atkinson had inserted Wilson Chandler into the starting lineup, replacing Taurean Prince.

Then Saturday moring arrived and everything changed. Atkinson was out after four years. It was mutual, Sean Marks explained, and players weren’t “involved.” But rumors flew. Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant wanted him out. Atkinson wanted out himself. Marks was unhappy with the playing style and rotations. Joe Tsai consulted with unnamed players before signing off on the move.

One thing is certain: Jacque Vaughn is the interim coach for the next 20 games and, hopefully, the playoffs. He noted the need for better communications, particularly with the 1, 2, 3 and 4 top players.

“It’s today’s game, and being able to adjust to that, getting the most out of talent that’s on your roster, but also listening and hearing the voices of the No. 1, 2, 3, 4 guys on your roster,” Vaughn said. “It’s crucial, and having that relationship is a must in today’s game.

“I don’t want to speak for those guys [regarding pushback], but what I will say is that in today’s game you have to be able to continually reinforce your philosophy and continue to communicate with guys.”

So, Sunday afternoon’s game vs. Chicago will be Vaughn’s debut, the first game he’s coached since he was fired as Magic head coach February 5, 2015 following a 10-game losing streak ... and a 58-158 record in Orlando.

Where to follow the game

The Nets will be on YES. You can also listen to the game at WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 3:00 PM.

Injuries

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are out. So is Garrett Temple (ankle). Nicolas Claxton, Dzanan Musa and Jeremiah Martin are all with Long Island who play the Greensboro Swarm. also a 3 p.m start, at Nassau Coliseum.

Ryan Arcidiacono (right Achilles soreness) and Zach Lavine (left quadriceps) are questionable. Kris Dunn (right knee sprain), Chandler Hutchinson (right knee sprain), Luke Kornet (right foot fracture) are out. Adam Mokoka and Max Strus, the Bulls two-ways, are with the Windy City Bulls.

The game

The Bulls have lost 12 of the last 14 including a defeat Friday night to the Pacers, which guaranteed a third straight losing season. Their fan base, which has been calling for the firing of virtually everyone who collects a check must be jealous of their Nets counterparts.

Of course, like the Nets, the Bulls have had a hard time with injuries but things are getting better despite the record. Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr. and Wendell Carter Jr. are back, but on minutes restrictions. Carter admits he’s winded running up and down the court.

“It’s almost like we’re in preseason with some of these lineups and situations,” head coach Jim Boylen said after Friday’s loss. “It’s difficult. I don’t know if you can miss that much time and just come back and be where you were. I don’t think it works like that.”

It’s not just injuries, however. Boylen’s tenure is so tentative that one of his players, Denzel Valentine, offered this “endorsement” of his coach Friday night after Boylen challenged the team’s toughness.

“I mean, he has a voice. He’s been our coach all year, so, hey, whatever happens to him is what happens. But for now, he’s our coach. It is what it is.’’

“You may not agree with some of the things he’s saying, disagree with how he feels about certain things, but we’re here as players to try to be coachable,’’

So expect at least the Bulls media to make the analogy between Atkinson and Boylen.

The Nets won both games the teams have played, on November 16 in Chicago and on January 31 in Brooklyn. That’s the game Kyrie Irving scored 54 points to honor his late friend, Kobe Bryant.

Player to Watch: Lauri Markkanen

He’s a stretch 5 who in his rookie year looked like a solid player, a piece you could build around with other bigs like the two “juniors” — Otto Porter and Wendell Carter. Lauri Markkanen has been injury prone, though. Last year, the Finnish 7-footer missed 30 games and this year, he’s up to 15.

The Bulls’ cornerstone returned from a pelvis-injury Wednesday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves scoring 13 points and nabbing four rebounds on 6-for-10 shooting (1-for-4 from deep) in an intentionally limited 21 minutes of action.

But then on Friday, he shot 1-of-10 from the field, missing all five of his 3-pointers and scoring only two points in 22 minutes vs. Indiana. So it’s hard to figure out what he’ll be like vs. the Nets.

Even without the injuries, he’s not what the Bulls expected in his rookie year. As NBC Sports Chicago reported this week...

He’s regressed in almost every conceivable aspect relative to his rookie and sophomore campaigns, averaging career-lows in points (15) rebounds (6.4) field goal attempts (11.9), and shooting career-worsts from the field, 3-point range, and the charity stripe. All that in hardly more minutes (30.3 per game) than his rookie year.

On a positive note, Markkanen says he feels better, but there’s also the issue of how he fits in Chicago’s offense. and whether the Bulls “core five” will ever get to work together. The group —Markkanen, Carter, Porter, LaVine and rookie point guard Coby White have played exactly five possessions together in 62 games.

From the Vault

Let’s go back to May 2016 and Sean Marks comments on Kenny Atkinson who he had just hired as the Nets coach.

‘Nuff said.