Nets meet Bulls with playoffs in mind

Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche, Taj Gibson
The Nets travel to Chicago in a game with playoff implications. (AP)
Joe Johnson, Andray Blatche, Taj Gibson
The Nets travel to Chicago in a game with playoff implications. (AP)
Brooklyn Nets


Chicago Bulls
24-26 Record 26-25
6-4 Last 10 Games 5-5
103.3 Points scored per 100 possessions 97.5
104.5 Points allowed per 100 possessions 98.0
93.8 Possessions per game 93.1
45.1% Field goal percentage 42.4%
36.8% Three-point percentage 33.6%
48.0% Rebound percentage 51.9%
15.4% Turnover percentage 16.6%
Joe Johnson (15.1 PPG) Top Scorer Carlos Boozer (14.8 PPG)

At first blush, tonight’s game might look be a middle-of-the-road game between two middle-of-the-road teams in middle-of-the-road February. But a closer glance reveals some big implications.

If they overtake the Chicago Bulls today, the Brooklyn Nets will move into a tie with the Atlanta Hawks for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. But since the Nets have already clinched their season series with the Hawks, which is the tiebreaker for playoff seeding, the fifth seed would be theirs outright.

And just a half-game up in the fourth seed? The Chicago Bulls. (Again, that’s IF they win tonight. If they lose, they stay as the seventh seed heading into the All-Star break.)

The Nets also need a win to preserve their own tiebreaker with the Bulls. Chicago won the first game in a 95-78 Christmas Day laugher, and if the Bulls win tonight they’d guarantee a tiebreaker for themselves with the Nets.

The Nets know all about these Chicago Bulls, particularly in the 4th-5th seed playoff spots.

These two teams went toe-to-toe for seven games last season in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, before the Bulls took a dominant first-half lead in Game 7 and ended up taking the Nets down in Brooklyn, 99-93.

They understand the implications. Deron Williams acknowledged that some guys look at the standings more than others, and that this is the time to do it.

“I think we’re definitely aware of (the playoff seeding),” Williams said in the team locker room Wednesday night. “Every guy’s different. Some guys might check every day. It’s kind of hard not to. We have the standings in our locker room on a big board, so you look over and glance, and so you know. It’s important because we want to try and move up and get as high as the 3 seed.”

“It’s huge,” Paul Pierce added, following his 25-point performance in their 105-89 win over the Charlotte Bobcats. “Actually, I just looked in the back. If we win tomorrow, we move up a spot. and there’s a big difference between being in the seventh spot and moving up to the third spot, I think we’re only a couple games from the third spot. so every game is crucial at this point.”

The Toronto Raptors are currently the third seed, as well as the Atlantic Division leader, with a 28-24 record. The Nets are three games back, at 24-26.

“Chicago is playing extremely well,” coach Jason Kidd said Wednesday. They’re well-coached. This is a quick turnaround and this is a chance for us to do better in back-to-back games.”

The Nets are 2-9 on the second half of back-to-back games.

“I’m going one step at a time,” Andray Blatche said. “We got Chicago tomorrow, we want to finish the first half of this season strong.”

The Bulls are a bit different than the team the Nets lost to. They’ve traded Luol Deng, who was their top scorer this season, to save money. But Tom Thibodeau has them playing his patented strong-side, pack-the-paint defense, and Joakim Noah has led them to the second-most efficient defense in the league. They’ve won three of their last four games, the last a 100-85 blowout on Tuesday over the free-falling Atlanta Hawks.

Tipoff at 8:00 P.M.