The Nets look to rebound from heartbreaker against some old faces in new places
Opponent: Chicago Bulls
Location: Barclays Center
Time: 7:30 EST
Watch: YES Network
The Brooklyn Nets have alternated wins and losses — or, more accurately losses and win, singular — to open the 2016-2017 season, and that seems appropriate somehow. Thus far, all three games have been decided by five points or fewer and the Nets played up to the competition offered by the likely playoff-caliber opposition. Much of that can be attributed to their much faster pace (currently ranked 5th, up from 19th last year) and elite rebounding (pulling down 47 rebounds per game right now, good for 9th in the NBA). They’re playing fast, they’re playing hard, and they’re making the most of their possessions by jacking up three-pointers at league-leading rate –37.3 per game — and it’s a damn good sight to see.
It’s even more appropriate, then, that this new-look franchise is playing the Chicago Bulls tonight, another team that looks entirely different after a busy offseason. The Bulls are trotting out three new starters this year in Dwyane Wade, who looks completely alien in a non-Miami uniform, Rajon Rondo, and Robin Lopez, the afro-ier twin brother of the Nets’ star center. Even stranger, the Bulls are hitting three-pointers at a stunning 43.5% success rate, the third-highest mark in the league. Don’t let that fool you, though, as they’re still playing at a grind-it-out, ISO-heavy, boring pace (27th in the NBA).
Of course, the two teams have played a combined five games, so these numbers may all be bunk by the time the final buzzer sounds tonight.
Even though the novelty of the Lopez v. Lopez matchup has worn off a bit over the years, it’s still always fun to see them going head-to-head. This will be the fourteenth time they’ve squared-off, and Brook has the opportunity to even the series at seven games apiece. The Lopez twins last faced off on April Fools’ Day and Brook scored 16 points on 7-20 shooting to go along with 8 rebounds, but Robin and the New York Knicks won by 14 points, knotting the season series at 2-2.
3 Things to Watch for in Nets-Bulls:
1. Which version of the Nets’ wing defense will show up?
The Nets were roasted by Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder in their season opener; but they bounced back by nearly shutting down Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, and Paul George in game two. However, then they looked sort of lost (but competent) against the Milwaukee Bucks’ position-less squad on Saturday. Can their wing defenders hang with the star-powered yet-awkwardly-fitted trio of Rondo, Wade, and Jimmy Butler? Maybe.
2. How long should we wait before we worry about Rondae Hollis-Jefferson?
My faith in Hollis-Jefferson remains unshaken, but it is at least a bit disconcerting to see him look so lost and/or passive on offense. He’s taken only a dozen shots (several bad ones at that), and has passed up more than a few open looks. Is he still shaking off a mostly lost season of rust? It’s difficult to say. Though, to be fair, he has had to work his backside off on defense thus far, and that could be playing a part in this — and the Bulls won’t offer much of a respite.
3. Can Trevor Booker continue his abuse in the post against Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez?
Booker has pulled down 10.7 rebounds per game thus far, despite giving up size to his counterpart in every game. He seems destined to play the Reggie Evans role for the Nets, as the somewhat-undersized big man that garners a ton of cheers for doing the team’s dirty work (albeit with far more competence on offense), but the Bulls thrive on boxing out and attacking the 50-50 balls as well.
Booker’s contributions on the glass may just swing this game one way or the other.