After a brief intermission, the gang is back together. The Brooklyn Nets return to the NBA season sitting at fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings and hope they can do enough to secure their playoff spot. They helped the cause after they beat the Miami Heat last week.
Waiting for the Nets will be the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls are fighting for their playoff lives, and they haven’t been making it easy on themselves. They lost to the Milwaukee Bucks last Thursday before the break and have now lost six straight games.
Where to follow the game
YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 8:00 p.m. ET.
Ben Simmons is questionable with right knee soreness.
Lonzo Ball is out for the remainder of the season as his left knee troubles have continued to plague him. Goran Dragic is questionable with left knee soreness. Javonte Green is out with a right knee injury.
Chicago took game one in November and game two in January while the Nets got game three earlier in February. This is the last regular season matchup between the teams.
When we last saw the Bulls, our attention was on other pressing matters. Even still, Chicago sat still at the deadline and didn't make any big moves. Over at Blog a Bull, Alex Kirschenbaum wrote
The Bulls are like that perennial slacker C/D-student in high school, who skated through class on a modicum of effort while doing just enough to not flunk out. It’s clear they could try a whole lot harder (in the Bulls’ case, that means actually committing to a direction that would set the team up for long-term success as an actual contender, not perpetually punting for play-in tournament cameos), but they’re keenly aware that they don’t have to.
Would a teardown make more sense than making the kinds of slight personnel changes that could help Chicago become, at best, first round playoff fodder? Probably. Would Arturas Karnisovas and Marc Eversley be comfortable blowing up the roster that they just put together in the summer of 2021 so soon? Probably not.
Eek. They signed Patrick Beverley and Bulls management is hoping that can propel them to the postseason. We'll see.
Jacque Vaughn is back, and he'll be here for a while. On Wednesday, the team announced that he signed a multiyear contract extension. through 2026-27, longer than any of the current players’ deals. Upon hearing the news, I thought back to what Kevin Durant said about JV on The Etcs back in November:
“I think he was due for an opportunity here. Not just any head coaching job, but I felt like here... If the spot was gonna come open, I felt like he was the guy because he paid his dues, knows the players, seen the guys come in and out, tight relationship with the front office. I think he can connect with the players a little easier because it’s hard to transition a new guy midway through the season, early in the season like this, so I felt like just for the continuity purposes it was good for us to stick with Jacque. And I’m happy for him, he deserves this opportunity. Great basketball mind, great team builder, great leader of men."
In the interim, Vaughn has to figure out the rotation going forward. The Nets have a lot good, talented players that need minutes, and combine that with the chase for the playoffs, it won't be easy. He’s trying to figure out how to manage the rotations, but one player who should play a big role in his plans is Cam Thomas. For a team that needs as much shot creation as possible, Thomas delivers that in spades and often serves as a jolt of energy for a sometimes stagnant Nets offense. To borrow a phrase from the New York Liberty, the Nets are entering their own “hybrid rebuild” of sorts. With that in mind, Thomas is someone who needs as much runway as possible so he can learn on the job.
A quick off topic aside: As some of you may have read, the mothership has cut a lot of sites across the network, and our friends at Blog a Bull have been affected as well. Layoffs suck, support all the great writers out there.
As Vaughn noted during the break, Nic Claxton has already set a career high in total minutes played this season, but even more interestingly, has played as many minutes this year as he did in his last two seasons combined. He’s been healthy and available all season long, and the coaching staff is planning to get him some rest here and there for the stretch run and the playoffs. He was back in the U.S. Virgin Islands, seemingly enjoying himself, even getting him some beach reading...
Tonight, he’ll have his hands full battling with Nikola Vucecic on the inside.
The Nets demolished the Bulls from downtown last matchup, as they made 17 three pointers compared to Chicago’s five. The Nets have made it a point to fire up more threes and someone like Joe Harris will play a big part in that. Harris’ second quarter barrage turned the game for the Nets last time against Chicago and he’ll look to break free so he can heat it up.
Slowing Zach Lavine down will be essential for Brooklyn tonight. The Nets did plenty to stop the other Bulls, but Lavine got busy to the tune of 38 points on 16-25 from the field. The Nets have more defenders they can throw at him this time, so look for them to pick him up full court and get in his space early and often.
Player to watch: DeMar DeRozan
If the Bulls hope to sneak into the postseason, they are going to do it thanks to DeRozan. DD leads the team (13th overall in the league) in scoring at 25.4 points per game and is shooting a career best 50.4 percent from the field. DeRozan struggled in the second meeting, but turned up late to the tune of ten points on 4-6 shooting from the field. You can always turn to DeRozan to get a good shot up late, and it’s something Billy Donovan will lean on if this game is close late.
Mikal Bridges had a game for the ages last Wednesday as his career high 45 points had Barclays Center rocking. Of all the great plays, this one really stood out to me:
Cutting is such an underrated skill and knowing exactly when to cut is vital for any good offense. Bridges has stepped up to be the focal point of the team, and it’s a role that suits him. He’s been great since coming over from the Phoenix Suns and as someone with experience in playing big games, he’s someone that can be counted on to step up and deliver when the stakes is high.
From the Vault
Snowfall is back for its sixth and final season, and all hell is breaking loose already. With that in mind, let's take it back to one of my favorite scenes from season five
More reading: Blog a Bull.
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes - Brooklyn Nets
- Chicago Bulls Game Notes - Chicago Bulls
- Nets, Bulls hope for new start after All-Star break - STATS
- Brooklyn visits Chicago after Bridges’ 45-point game - AP
- Three keys for Nets to avoid play-in round - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Spencer Dinwiddie believes Nets have players who can close - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets plan to fill Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving void on offense with defense - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets turn to group think minus Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving - Denis P. Gorman - Newsday
- Spencer Dinwiddie on future crunch-time possessions: ‘I’ve got the most game-winners in the league’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Jacque Vaughn making difficult lineup decisions in Nets’ best interest: ‘It’s not conventional’ - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
- Brooklyn Nets’ Mikal Bridges embraces the Kevin Durant trade - Marc J. Spears - Andscape
- Nets Injury Tracker: Ben Simmons questionable for Friday vs. Bulls with left knee soreness - Danny Abriano - SNY
- NBA stretch run reset: Where title contenders and playoff hopefuls stand right now - Tim Bontemps - ESPN
- The Chicago Bulls found a spark in Patrick Beverley. But will it create a sense of urgency - Julia Poe - Chicago Tribune