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Nets and Bulls play the late game

Chicago Bulls v Miami Heat Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Losing is bad enough. Losing when you have to travel across the country after playing the day before must be even worse. The Brooklyn Nets traveled to the Pacific northwest to take on the Portland Trailblazers, and took a rough six point loss. The back to backs don’t end now, so they have to figure it out in a hurry. Better to go through a rough patch in January as compared to, say, May.

The opponent tonight will be the Chicago Bulls. Billy Donovan and friends have been magnificent and find themselves atop the Eastern Conference. They recently had their ten game winning streak snapped by the Dallas Mavericks, but got back on the good foot with as they knocked the Detroit Pistons around by 46 points last night.

And yes, the Nets do not yet have a win again a top four team, going 0-7. The Bulls certainly qualify.

Where to follow the game

YES Network and ESPN on TV. WFAN on radio. Another late night so the party is getting started after 10 PM.

Injuries

James Harden sat out Monday’s game due to left knee hyperextension. He should be back tonight. No LaMarcus Aldridge or Joe Harris. Nic Claxton left Monday’s game with left hamstring tightness. No word on if he’s in. Nassir Little needlessly dove at Kyrie Irving’s ankles, and Irving tweaked his left one. He says he’s good to go so he’ll be out there. Officially, though, it’s the Brooklyn Questionables with the injury update listing Harden, Claxton and Irving as questionable.

Patrick Williams is out for the season. Mac McClung is not with the team. Javonte Green is out with a right adductor strain. Tyler Cook is out with a left ankle sprain. Alex Caruso is in health and safety protocols.

The game

Chicago took game one in November and game two in December. This is the final regular season meeting between the teams.

The kids are alright. Cam Thomas had season highs in points (21) and three pointers made (four). Thomas is back in the rotation and gives the Nets offense another useful option to work with. As the Nets continue to experiment, Thomas ought to be a part of the winning formula.

Assuming Claxton is out or limited in a major way, DayRon Sharpe will be counted on to have another big game. The kid got the most amount of playing time in his young career and made the absolute most of it, scoring 14 points, grabbing seven rebounds, and tussling with Jusuf Nurkic on the interior. He’ll have good challenge against well known Nets nemesis, Nikola Vucevic. Vuc’s shooting numbers are down across the board, but when you consider how bad he started the season, you can live with what he’s been giving you recently. The Bulls worked Aldridge in the pick and roll each time they saw him, so we’ll see what the strategy is for their bigs tonight.

Great thing about a blowout is you get to give all your guys some rest. No Bulls player played over 29 minutes and with another national TV showcase game on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors, they’ll be fresh for both contests.

A 10 p.m. Eastern time start for two Eastern Conference teams is pretty weird, but if you think of it as the main event to your favorite PPV card, then it becomes a bit more palatable.

There probably won’t be many threes tonight. Chicago is dead last in threes attempted, but they lead the league in efficiency as they’ve made 39 percent of their shots from downtown. Without Harris, Brooklyn’s 3-point shooting has plummeted, and Patty Mills’ recent struggles haven’t been helping the cause. He’ll be coming off the bench tonight and the hope for the Nets is that he can provide a jolt of shooting once he checks in.

Turnovers have been hurting the Nets recently, and they need to be extra careful tonight. The Bulls are sixth in the NBA in points off turnovers while the Nets allow the sixth most points off of turnovers. The Nets have had their issues with the elite teams, so they will need to play a disciplined, steady game if they want to get the win. The Nets have had opportunities to go on huge runs to put teams away, but have not taken full advantage.

If he keeps at it, DeMar DeRozan might sneak an MVP vote or two. DD has been masterful as his buzzer beaters have gotten the Bulls some last second wins and his steady excellence has kept the team humming. Elite teams need multiple players that can consistently get their own shots and DeRozan does that in spades. He doesn’t get to the rim as much as he used to, but when he’s there, finishes at an incredibly high clip.

The Bulls will see a fellow midrange maestro. Steve Nash and the Nets coaching staff are going to give Kevin Durant a night off one of these days, but it’s not actively on KD’s mind. He explained why here:

“I’m just going to play until they tell me that I’m sitting out. That’s not on my mind while I’m playing. That’s not on my mind when I’m going into a game or preparing for a game. It is what it is. I got to play 40, so what? I’m going to play. They tell me to sit out, I’ll do the same thing.”

The man is here to play and play at his all time great standard. For everything going wrong with the Nets right now, Durant isn’t one to make excuses about the schedule, COVID turnover, etc. He’s played well in both Chicago matchups this season and will look to control the game tonight.

Durant’s Olympic teammate has been fantastic and will look to keep the party going. Zach Lavine hasn’t shot above 33 percent from the field in each of his past two games, and that isn’t something that has happened since before the Thanksgiving holiday. He’s been great this year and is someone that can heat up at a moment’s notice. The Nets have been starting David Duke, Jr. over the past few weeks, and it seems like he’s a good bet to start again tonight. He and presumably some combination of DeAndre Bembry and Bruce Brown figure to get the assignment on Lavine.

A day off should do James Harden some good. The team sat him out on Monday as a precaution and with his minutes piling up, a break every so often ought to keep him fresh for the long haul. He struggled in both games against the Bulls, and Brooklyn needs him to be as assertive as humanly possible early and often. When Harden is pushing the tempo and attacking the basket, he helps open things up for the Nets, creates open looks for his teammates, and keeps the opponent on their heels.

Player to watch: Lonzo Ball

The other big Bulls acquisition has handled himself well in his new city. Lonzo hit a huge three to help the Bulls win the second matchup and has been key to their defense. Ball has consistently worked on his jumper and is shooting a career best 42.3 percent from downtown this season. With him orchestrating the Bulls offense, they will be a tough out come playoff time.

Day two wasn’t as smooth as day one for Kyrie Irving. He wasn’t bad on Monday night, but he almost got taken out and is still working to find his rhythm. After the game, Irving mentioned he needs to get to the rim a bit more than he has so far. Even as he works his way back into his All NBA form, Irving helps uplift a Nets offense that hasn’t been playing to expectation over the past few weeks. Irving wasn’t on a minutes restriction as he played 39 minutes Monday, and with four days before his next game, he might be on the court for something close to that tonight as well.

From the Vault

Shouts to the Queen

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