The Brooklyn Nets mustered a mere 28 wins in the 2017-18 campaign.
Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls, the Nets matched that number — in January.
It’s safe to say that the Bulls — now having dropped 14 of their last 15 games — have set their sights on the 2019-20 season.
A game against the struggling Bulls could not have come at a more opportune time for Brooklyn. The injury-riddled Nets fell to Boston Celtics last on Monday — snapping a five-game winning streak.
The Bulls came to play on Tuesday, showing fight all night. It was a noble effort, but the depleted Nets ended up with the lead at the final buzzer — defeating Chicago by five points. Budding stars Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen combined for 44 points, but it was not enough to secure the win.
The Nets entered the game 2-0 against the Bulls this season. In the teams’ last meeting — which came on Jan. 6 — the Nets won by 17 points.
However, a win on Tuesday did not come as easily.
Brooklyn’s offense was nonexistent for the majority of the first quarter. It appeared the Nets’ offensive struggles had carried over from Monday’s loss to the Boston. In the fourth quarter, the Nets put up just sixteen points — which was not enough to defeat the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics.
But thanks to a 9-0 run to end the quarter, Brooklyn led Chicago by one. However, the Nets’ late success did not continue in the second quarter.
The Bulls — thanks to LaVine and Markkanen — controlled the first half. With LaVine’s 17 points and Markkanen’s 14 boards, the Bulls entered the half with a four-point lead.
In the first half, the Nets could not take advantage of Chicago’s 11 turnovers. Brooklyn, on the other hand, only turned the ball over three times. The Nets also shot an abysmal 4-for-19 from beyond the arc in the half. In addition to Brooklyn’s shooting woes, the Bulls out-rebounded the Nets by nine.
Brooklyn desperately needed a second-half offensive explosion — a common occurrence recently this season.
D’Angelo Russell helped turned the tide for Brooklyn. In the third quarter, Russell scored thirteen points, resulting in a four-point Nets lead entering the fourth. Brooklyn’s lead could have been larger, but the team failed to convert on free throw attempts, making just 17 of 27.
The fourth quarter was a battle, but Brooklyn staved off each Chicago run. The Nets never trailed in the fourth, and ultimately won 122-117.
Shabazz Napier — who has performed very well in Dinwiddie’s absence — caught fire in the fourth. Both Napier and Russell led Brooklyn’s offense all night, combining for 54 points.
The win was Brooklyn’s ninth straight at the Barclays Center, in addition to a 12-1 mark in the team’s last 13 home games.
Brooklyn’s performance Tuesday wasn’t pretty, but despite struggling from the line, losing the rebound battle, and shooting under 30% from deep, the Nets ended up with the victory.
To beat the Spurs on Thursday, the Nets will need to be on top of their game for all four quarters — not just the fourth.
D’Angelo Russell Point Guard
30 PTS, 10-22 FG, 2-18 3PT, 8-10 FT, 4 REB, 7 AST, 3 STL, 35 MIN
In just 23 minutes Monday, Russell torched the Celtics with 25 points.
Also on Monday, Russell stayed on the bench for the final eight minutes of action. Despite his strong performance, he failed to go for a 50-50 ball — which, in addition to playing the front end of a back-to-back, prompted Atkinson to sit Russell.
How did Russell respond Wednesday?
He was terrific again, leading the Nets with 30 points. He also committed zero turnovers, indicating his ability to control all aspects of the game.
— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) January 30, 2019
Jarrett Allen Center
7 PTS, 2-4 FG, 3-4 FT, 8 REB, 3 AST, 1 BLK, 2 TO, 29 MIN
Jarrett Allen — one of the steals of the 2017 NBA Draft — has improved in two major aspects in his sophomore season: rebounding and rim protection. His significant development has earned him a spot on Team USA in this season’s Rising Stars Challenge.
The Fro wasn’t featured in the offense tonight, but still produced in his limited attempts. Allen did struggle in the rebounding department, allowing Markkanen to grab 19 boards.
Next up: A challenge against the Spurs.
Rodions Kurucs Power Forward
6 PTS, 2-11 FG, 0-5 3PT, 2-2 FT, 6 REB, 1 STL, 24 MIN
Air Latvia wasn’t at his best last night — shooting a disappointing 1-for-9 from the field.
From ill-advised shots to unnecessary fouls, Kurucs was ineffective.
As a member of Team World, Kurucs will join Jarrett Allen in February’s Rising Stars Challenge. He will be the latest draft pick to earn the honor — a credit to the Brooklyn scouting department.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Power Forward
18 PTS, 7-10 FG, 1-2 3PT, 3-6 FT, 4 REB, 2 AST, 3 TO, 21 MIN
In a season plagued by injuries, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is searching for success. His inability to stay on the court has hampered Hollis-Jefferson’s development — which is extremely unfortunate in a contract year.
Tuesday was different for RHJ.
His 14 first-half points led the Nets, and, more importantly, kept Brooklyn in the game.
It’s refreshing to see RHJ thrive — as he looked like his old self.
Shabazz Napier Point Guard
24 PTS, 8-17 FG, 5-10 3PT, 3-6 FT, 3 REB, 4 AST, 3 STL, 1 TO, 25 MIN
Shabazz Napier is rarely the best player on the court, but his confidence and energy can never be questioned.
With the injury to Spencer Dinwiddie, Napier has stepped up his game. He scored 20 in Monday’s loss to Boston and 18 in Friday night’s win against the Knicks.
Tuesday, Napier was excellent once again.
Aside from Russell, Napier was the Nets’ go-to guy on offense. His three-pointers were key in Brooklyn’s comeback.
Once out of the rotation, Napier has become a reliable option for the Brooklyn Nets.
Shabazz Napier is FEARLESS!
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) January 30, 2019