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Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls preview: Welcome to NBA In-season Tournament

Welcome to the NBA in season Tournament, complete with new uniforms, new courts and $500,000 per man bonus if you win it all!

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

More good days. The Brooklyn Nets faced a tough test on Wednesday night against the defending Eastern Conference champions, the Miami Heat. The Nets passed with flying colors as they came away with an exhilarating victory. The Nets have one more game on the road before they head back home to Barclays Center.

The opponent tonight is looking to figure some things out. The Chicago Bulls are trying to move up a tier in the East as they try to stand out from the pack. They lost to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday night.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 8 PM.

Injuries

Nic Claxton and Cam Johnson are out. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dennis Smith Jr are questionable. That’s an upgrade.

Zach Lavine is probable with low back spasms. Lonzo Ball is out for the season following knee surgery.

The game

Welcome to the NBA Cup! It’s similar to the WNBA’s Commissioner’s Cup (shouts to the New York Liberty!), so let our pal Richard Jefferson explain it to you

Basketball is fun. Basketball with some more stakes in it? Still fun! Stop being dorks and enjoy basketball!

In what feels like the first time in ages, the Nets are actually pretty good at rebounding! Brooklyn is currently second in the NBA in rebound rate and that’s helped them get out on the run and score easy baskets. The Nets’ ability to get out and run should keep things open for them and make things hard on a longtime Net nemesis. Nikola Vucevic has given Brooklyn the blues for a decade and it’ll take a team effort to slow him down when he gets the ball in the block. Dorian Finney-Smith has done admirable work at center in place of Claxton and will look to bang with Vuc and Andre Drummond on the inside.

It’s one thing to be on it when things are going well. It’s another to bounce back after a rough shooting night. That’s what Cam Thomas will have to do as he had his first down shooting game of this season. Even with the cold shooting, he was part of the closing five down the stretch in Miami and contributed to the team’s win. When you’re able to impact the game in a positive way even when the shot isn’t there, that’s when you know you’ve got something special cooking.

Slowing DeMar DeRozan down will be a tall task for the Nets. DeRozan knows how to get to his spots and can score over any type of defense. He does a tremendous job of drawing fouls and is tied for ninth in the Association in free throw attempts per game. It takes tremendous discipline to defend a player like DeRozan and he’ll pose a worthy challenge to Brooklyn. DeMar was also part of this closing sequence...

Basketball is a beautiful, hilarious, and sometimes unserious game. I love it.

It’s a back-to-back, so we’ll see what happens with Ben Simmons. By and large, Simmons has started to look like the old version of himself. He had a pretty blah game and committed a few terrible fouls and turnovers, but still chipped in with 11 rebounds on the night. He’s ninth in assists (7.5), 13th in rebounds (10.3) but 192nd in scoring (7.5) so far this year. We’ll see how Jacque Vaughn manages things for Simmons tonight and on Saturday when they get back to Brooklyn.

Player to watch: Zach Lavine

So what happens when you need to have a team meeting ‘basketball conversation” after the first day of the year? That’s the question Zach Lavine and the Bulls have been trying to figure out after they got blown out by the Oklahoma City Thunder on Opening Night. With the roster on paper, the Bulls should be better. And if they don’t play well, things could be shaken up as Lavine alluded to in a recent postgame interview:

“You know, we’re on our third year now, and I’ve been saying since training camp: It’s time to put pen to paper. If it don’t work, we understand the business of basketball. We have three All-Star players. We gotta make this work, from top to bottom. It’s not just the players. We gotta make this click.”

Indeed.

Lavine is averaging 24 points a game and scored a career high 51 points against the Detroit Pistons a few games ago. For the Nets, they’ll try to chase him off the three point line as much as possible. He’s averaging close to nine three point attempts a game, but is only shooting 34.9 percent from deep. It’s hard to stop a player like Lavine, so if you make everything tough and challenge his shots to the best of your ability, you can live with the results.

Mikal Bridges will look to put another good one on the board. Bridges had a solid outing on Wednesday night and made a bevy of clutch plays down the stretch. When he’s able to get to his spots within the flow of the offense, everything gets easy for him. That’s the key for him as the Nets search for easy baskets in the halfcourt.

That’s this court, the first we’ll see in NBA Cup games...

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