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Brooklyn matinee: Nets ‘Big Three’ back to face Bulls

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Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With Kevin Durant and James Harden on the court —but with Kyrie Irving hurting with a facial contusion, Brooklyn’s Nets won easily over the Spurs Wednesday. Harden who didn’t play till midway through the second quarter almost had a triple-double and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. The Nets are 22 games over .500 and only need wins over the Bulls and Cavs to secure the second seed. Nothing else has to happen. Oh yeah, the “Big Three” are back!!!

The opponent in the early afternoon contest are the Bulls who are officially done. After the Wizards beat the Cavaliers Friday night, Chicago was eliminated from the play-in tournament. They have nothing to play for but pride. They finish out the season Sunday in Chicago vs. the Bucks. A loss Saturday and a win Sunday would help the Nets big time.

Where to follow the game

It’s the YES Network with no national coverage. WFAN on radio, 101.9 FM. Tip after 1:00 p.m. EDT. So get a good night’s sleep.

Look for us post-game on the NetsDaily Clubhouse.

Injuries

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving are available for the first time since February 13. Joe Harris (hip strain) is questionable. Spencer Dinwiddie and Chris Chiozza are still out but Chiozza was seen putting up shots before the Spurs game, his cast off.

Tomas Satoransky, still recovering from what Mike James did to his ankles two games back (see below), is questionable. Troy Brown (ankle) and Daniel Theis (hip) are out. Of course, after the Bulls were eliminated, other players could be rested.

The game

The Nets lost the first game to the Bulls, then beat them last week with only a little scare at the end. Of course, a lot has changed since then. The Bulls, as noted, are out of the play-in tournament and the 76ers have clinched the first seed in the East, leaving Brooklyn and Milwaukee in competition for the second seed with the Nets a game up. And of course, the Nets are healthier than they have been in months.

The big draw and the big deal Saturday is the return of the “Big Three.” As every Nets fan knows, and every pundit will tell them if you don’t, the superstar trio has only played seven games together this season, a total of 186 minutes. Talk about your small samples!

Moreover, the last time they were on the court together was the day before Valentine’s Day and 10 days before the first fans were permitted inside Barclays Center. At that point 1) Nic Claxton still hadn’t played his first game of the season; 2) Blake Griffin was still playing in Detroit; 3) Mike James was still playing for CSKA Moscow and 4) Alize Johnson was in the G League. In other words, it’s been a long time.

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of talk about how the Nets had put the highest priority on health, more so than seeding. But now that they’re as healthy as they’re likely to get, winning and seeding are the issues.

“Probably two of our better lineups have never played together,” Nash said, seemingly referencing how Claxton and Griffin haven’t played with their superstar teammates. “We’re not a team that’s running it back for Year 3, 4, 5, that’s going to rely on our past experiences. We’re a team that has to build while we’re trying to win. That is our gap and our challenge, so [Saturday] will just be a nice step in the direction.”

How many minutes will the “Big Three” see together? Expect that the number won’t be small. Only Harden is on a minutes restriction but Nash said he’ll play more than the 26 he racked up against the Spurs but fewer than 40. Of course, the Nets will also play Sunday night against the Cavs, but as we’ve noted, between the time they returned from Chicago early Wednesday morning till the time they depart for whatever city their opponent plays in on May 25th, they’ll be sleeping in their own beds every night. So who knows what Sunday will bring.

For the Bulls, it’s another disappointing season, but they did add Nikola Vucevic and watched as Zach LaVine put up his best career numbers in almost every category. Unfortunately, they don’t have a first rounder for all their troubles and bad luck. They can’t even tank. The Magic acquired their pick in the Vucevic deal.

Player to Watch: Lauri Markkanen

Probably no player exemplifies the Bulls lost season as does seven-footer Lauri Markkanen. Still only 23, the Big Finn has gone from big hope to the big disappointment in the Bulls’ piece. He was taken at No. 7 by the Timberwolves in the 2017 draft then traded for Jimmy Butler in a deal that also saw the Bulls get Zach LaVine.

Markkanen has put up some nice numbers in his four years. His 13.6 points per game this season are the lowest of his career. So are his 5.3 rebounds. For his career, he’s averaging 15.6 points, 7.1 rebounds has shot 36.6 percent from deep. Not bad. As recently as this week, he showed what he can do. Against the Raptors, he finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, two assists, a steal and a block in 25 minutes.

But his lack of physicality, inconsistency and long list of injuries soured the Bulls brass on him and so at the deadline, they traded for Vucevic and Theis. Not to mention the presence of Patrick Williams, the Bulls lottery pick last year and the youngest player in the league. He needs minutes.

As Chicago Sun-Times Bulls beat writer writes Saturday...

Barring a complete change of heart, he likely will be playing his last two games in a Bulls uniform Saturday at the Nets and Sunday against the Bucks before becoming a restricted free agent this summer. That writing has been on the wall since March.

Markkanen knows he’s not wanted and said recently that he wants to start wherever he lands in the summer. The Nets, of course, would have no interest, but he’s a cautionary tale. It’s hard to scout grit.

From the Vault

This is a short one and very recent — like three days ago, but it’s so much fun (at least for the Nets.)

Talked about breaking ankles? Satoransky has been out with an ankle sprain since James dropped him.

More reading: Blog-a-Bull