After an encouraging 107-99 victory over the Sacramento Kings last night, The Nets (14-16) look to finish off the calendar year on a high note tonight as they take on the Central Division-leading Chicago Bulls (22-9), who are scorching the NBA in the midst of a seven-game winning streak. It’s the third of four meetings between the two teams; the first two games were lopsided Bulls wins sparked by big second halves, a recurring theme for Nets’ losses until this last five-game stretch.
Mason Plumlee and Jarrett Jack continue to flourish on the first team and no shuffling of the lineup is imminent despite Brook Lopez and Deron Williams’ improved health. “While [Deron Williams and Brook Lopez] were out, we started playing better and winning so why would I change the lineup for now?” said Coach Hollins, who has used several starting lineups this year regardless of injuries.
The bench, including Lopez and Williams, provided a boost for the Nets last night with 38 points, a stark improvement over their abysmal performance on Saturday night against Indiana (16 points on 5-32 shooting). Lopez, despite five fouls in 11 minutes, scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds while Williams scored six points with three assists in 16 minutes.
The Bulls come off a 92-90 victory against the aforementioned Pacers last night and will have their full arsenal, a stake they couldn’t claim in their previous meetings with Brooklyn, when Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah both missed games. Jimmy Butler, coming off a 27-point, nine-rebound game last night, is averaging 25.9 points per game in his past eight games while steadily becoming one of the most dynamic two-way players in the Eastern Conference. In a contract year, no less.
Derrick Rose has rounded into star form, averaging 22 points per game in the past five contests, while Pau Gasol continues his own All-Star campaign averaging 17.9 points and 11.2 rebounds for the season. The Nets have had few answers for Gasol in the low post their two games, and he’s averaged 20.5 points, 14.5 rebounds, and three blocks while shooting 14-21 from the field per game. It’s indicative of their larger issues: as a team, the Bulls have out-rebounded the Nets 107-78 over the two games.
Kevin Garnett, who played 21 minutes last night, could be a healthy scratch tonight as per usual instituted protocol on tail ends of back-to-backs and if so the case, makes the task against the sixth ranked rebounding team that more daunting.
Currently seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, the Nets are 1-11 against teams with a .500 record or better. Despite trade rumors and an aura of disarray that follows them around, Hollins and his club is still in prime position for another playoff run despite their losing record.
Tip-off is at 8:00 P.M. EST, in the United Center in Chicago.