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Nets complete five-game, 11-day road trip in Chicago

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Well, that was a relief. After being down 21 points and looking at the distinct possibility of a five-game losing streak, the Nets were revived by Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin, then Kevin Durant as the Nets beat the Denver Nuggets, 125-119, giving them a 29-3 record in games when they score 120 or more points.

Meanwhile, the Bulls are currently in 11th place in the East with little chance of getting into the play-in tournament. They’ll go into tonight’s game 10 games below .500 and two and a half games back of the 10th place Wizards with four to play. They have won three straight, however, beating the Hornets by 18, the Celtics by 22 and the Pistons by 12.

Where to follow the game

It’s YES2 again with no national coverage. WFAN on radio, 101.9 FM. Tip after 8:00 p.m. EDT.

Join us on NetsDaily Clubhouse post-game. Details to come.

Injuries

For the Nets, James Harden (hamstring), Spencer Dinwiddie (torn ACL), and Chris Chiozza (hand fracture) are out. Bruce Brown (facial contusions) is questionable. Harden is confident and could return Wednesday vs. the Spurs. Meanwhile, Spencer Dinwiddie, still hoping for a return this season, said he got some “great news” on Monday. No details.

Troy Brown (ankle) is out. Daniel Theis (hip) is day-to-day. Everyone else is available. Jerami Grant who was a late scratch Sunday, appears to be ready for this one.

The game

The Bulls won the first one back in April, a 115-107 stinker that was among the team’s most disappointing losses. Without James Harden and Kevin Durant, the Nets fell behind early and couldn’t overcome the deficit, losing to the Bulls, 115-107.

The game tonight is critical if the Nets want to avoid the third seed. After the Spurs decimated the Bucks, 146-125, last night, the Nets are back in second by a game. Brooklyn will have to retain at least that margin to finish the season above Milwaukee which holds the tie-breaker after last week’s two wins.

For the Nets, this could be the last game without a healthy “Big Three.” Adrian Wojnarowski reported last night that Harden may return for the Nets Wednesday against the Spurs — but that isn’t a certainty. Tonight will be Harden’s 17th straight game lost to a nagging hamstring injury. That’s 10 more than he had ever missed before in his career. It’s also the second longest streak of the year for any of the “Big Three.” Kevin Durant missed 23, also with a hamstring.

“It’s all possible but we are still going to monitor it day-to-day,” said Nash on Harden’s return. “He’s putting in his consecutive high-intensity workloads. He’s responded, so it’s all positive. It’s just a matter of monitoring it from today to tomorrow to Wednesday and figuring out what’s the best plan of attack.”

The Nets can hope that they have something left over from their late-game defense on Nikola Jokic to handle the other Nikola, Vucevic. This will be the fifth time they will face their nemesis this season, three times with Magic before the trade deadline and once with the Bulls after. So far, this season, he’s averaging 26.5 points and 13.5 boards vs. Brooklyn, with a 2-2 record. That’s just a bit above his season averages of 23.9 and 11.6 but as any Nets fan can tell you, he steps up when he sees the black-and-white.

The Nets, primarily using Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton, held Jokic to 5-of-14 shooting in the second half Saturday night in Denver. That and the third quarter heroics of Griffin and Kyrie Irving saved the day. The performances of Griffin and Claxton had to give Nash some positive vibes. Both players are getting better as the season winds down. Griffin is transitioning into a new role, perhaps as the starting 5, and Claxton is simply recovering from quarantine after testing positive for COVID.

Chicago, despite a tough season that included a positive COVID test for Zach LaVine, is playing its best basketball in quite a while and still holds out hope, slim as it is, for the play-in tournament. As Jay Patt of Blog-a-Bull, our SB Nation sister site, reported following the Pistons win, “The Bulls have won three consecutive games by double digits for the first time since 2015 and held opponents under 100 points in three straight games for the first time since 2018.”

Player to Watch: Zach LaVine

Zach LaVine is always a player to watch. He’s that electrifying when he’s healthy. COVID knocked him out last month, causing him to miss 11 straight games to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, but otherwise, he’s had a healthy season, playing 56 games and averaging a whopping 27.3 points, five rebounds and five assists while shooting 51/42/85, ALL those numbers are career highs for the 26-year-old.

And then there’s his highlights like this one from Sunday’s game vs. Detroit.

Or this one, also from Sunday...

LaVine led the Bulls with an efficient 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting overall and 3-of-5 from 3 while posting a plus-19. Expect him to come out blazing tonight.

It’s hard to imagine that if LaVine had been healthy all year, the Bulls would be in the position they’re in this week, hoping for two wins over the Nets to get them closer to the Wizards. They were 4-7 in that 11-game stretch without LaVine.

From the Vault

As the Nets close the regular season, all thoughts are turning to the playoffs. But this regular season shouldn’t be forgotten, despite all its ups-and-downs, injuries and controversies. The Nets currently have a .647 winning percentage which if it holds up, would the best in franchise history. The 2001-02 New Jersey Nets won 52 out of 82 games for a .634 winning percentage. So, let’s go back to that season one more time.

More reading: Blog-a-Bull