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Nets begin three-game road trip in Chicago vs. Bulls

Cleveland Cavaliers v Chicago Bulls

New year, same you. The Brooklyn Nets closed out 2022 in style and came back home for a quick New Year’s Day celebration before getting back on the road. They were able to do that and more with a wire-to-wire victory against the San Antonio Spurs on Monday night. The winning streak is all the way up to 12, and they haven’t trailed in the last two games.

So what do we do with the Chicago Bulls? They’re right on the door of the play-in race, but it looks the party is coming to an end. They led for most of Monday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, but allowed Donovan Mitchell to score a game-tying layup after an intentional missed free throw in the final seconds to get it to overtime. From there, the Bulls were completely deflated as Mitchell tallied up 71 points and led the Cavs to the overtime W. It didn’t help that the referees missed two critical calls late that got the game into overtime, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET.


Royce O’Neale and Marcus Morris missed Monday’s game due to a non COVID illness. They’re both probable.

Lonzo Ball is still continuing to recover from offseason knee surgery. Tony Bradley is away from the team for personal reasons. Javonte Green is out with right knee soreness. Andre Drummond is probable with a left acromioclavicular (shoulder) sprain.

The game

Chicago won the first game in November. The Nets are now 12-7 on the road, the 12 road wins most in the league.

Around this time a year ago, the Nets played the Bulls and demolished them by 26 points. Who knew that it would turn out to be the swan song of the “Big Three?” Funny how life goes.

When things go wrong, we knock on the star player’s door first. They get the big money and all the trappings of fame, so when the team is a mess, you have to be the one to figure it out. For Zach Lavine, he has to be the player to figure things out for the Bulls. Unfortunately, Lavine is out here squabbling with management. The per game numbers look solid (22 points, four rebounds, and four assists), but the impact hasn’t been there.

Chicago’s defense has struggled, and the absence of Ball has been felt on a deep level. Over at Blog a Bull, your friendly bulls blogger wrote about their defense and said:

It was logical heading into this season to expect the defense to be poor, especially without Lonzo Ball. They were a team defense not built around rim protection or fantastic one-on-one wing defenders, but point of attack disruption. Not only was Ball a big part of that, but it is a very precarious foundation overall to build your defense on.

So while the Bulls defense still was putting up results, it did seem like they were giving up easy shots especially if the other team could string two competent passes together.

There’s still belief in some circles, but things need to pick up in a hurry.

Since the beginning of December, the Nets have been middle of the pack in the rebounding category. The Bulls have been one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA during that stretch, and whoever controls the boards will have a chance to control the tempo of tonight’s game. Nikola Vucevic is eighth in the league in rebounding, and will pose a unique challenge for Nic Claxton tonight. Claxton has been one of the best rim protectors in the league this season, and Vucevic will look to draw him away from the basket as much as he can. Vucevic is shooting a pretty solid 36.9 percent from deep, so he has to be respected from outside of the paint.

We won’t see that many 3-pointers (relatively speaking) tonight. The Bulls are 30th in threes attempted per game while the Nets are 26th. Brooklyn is second in efficiency while the Bulls are 11th. Having Joe Harris back will help the Nets 3-point attack and he looked spry in his return to action on Monday. Harris had been out for a week with knee soreness and we’ll see how he handles the workload of four games this week. O’Neale figures to be back so Jacque Vaughn and company will have more depth to work with tonight.

The Kyrie Irving Show continues on tonight. Irving had another banner game on Monday night as his 27 points and eight rebounds on 11-14 from the field helped pace the Nets attack. Two of those points came via this sensational play:

Gotta admit, I didn’t think the man had hops like that!

Player to watch: DeMar DeRozan

DeRozan is the only Bull that’s been handling business this season. On the year, he’s averaging around 27 points, five rebounds, and five assists on 50.8% shooting from the field and 88.6% from the free throw line. DD is Chicago’s go to player when the game is close late, and his ability to get his own shot always ensures the Bulls will always have a decent attempt when the game is in the final stages. The great thing about DeRozan is he is someone that is able to adapt to whatever his team needs. He’s a winning player and someone that you’d love to have on your team.

When you hold on to big leads, your heavy hitters get to take a break. You save their legs for the grind of an 82-game season and give your bench more time to get some shine. That’s been a big emphasis for the Nets and one they hope carries them through the rest of 2023.

Kevin Durant had another fun day at the office with 25 points, 11 assists, three rebounds, three steals, and a block in only 29 minutes. Of his 11 dimes, this one to Nic Claxton was my favorite

With all the attention Durant gets from defenders, his ability to make passes like that makes the Nets even more difficult to slow down. Durant is shooting a career best 56.4% from the field and when you take into account the level of difficulty of his shots, it becomes even more incredible. Durant had a solid outing the first time he played the Bulls, but turned it over seven times in 38 minutes. There was a lot going on that day, and two months later, the team is a lot more settled now. If Durant is able to keep the turnovers down, it’ll put a lot of strain on the Chicago defense and help the Nets control the flow of the game. A quick start against a slumping Chicago team would do wonders for the Nets as they try to push the winning streak to 13.

From the Vault

The Bulls allowed Mitchell to set a franchise record on Monday night. Once upon a time, the Bulls had their own franchise record for scoring set in Cleveland...

More reading: Blog a Bull