Nets vs. Bulls — 3 Things To Watch

The 27-19 Brooklyn Nets play host to the 28-17 Chicago Bulls tonight in Brooklyn. Here’s three things to watch in tonight’s contest:

1) Defense. I know this is broad, but just watch how Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls play defense. As Beckley Mason once put it, no single basketball innovation has changed the game so drastically for the league’s best teams in the past decade than Thibodeau’s defensive approach. The players have a system so direct and decisive that Thibodeau marks out to the inch where they’re supposed to be on the floor in any given situation.

Thibodeau’s defensive strategy is to force every screen baseline, overload the strong side with defenders (which is allowable under the NBA’s zone rules), and cut off passing and driving angles in the middle of the floor. It’s no coincidence that the Bulls ranked first in defensive efficiency in Thibodeau’s first two years, and rank second this year by a hair so far. It’s no coincidence. If the Nets can somehow magically appear in the middle of the paint, maybe they’ll have a shot against this defense. (Joakim Noah being questionable doesn’t hurt, either.)

2) D-Will. One significant advantage the Nets do hold over the Bulls: with star PG Derrick Rose and backup-still-solid PG Kirk Hinrich both out, the Bulls turn to Nate Robinson, the diminutive, enigmatic point guard known most for dunking but has dunked just once in the last two years. If anyone doesn’t know Thibodeau’s regimented defensive system in Chicago, it’s Robinson. As Sun Tzu taught, you can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places that are undefended. Nate Robinson by definition is a place that is undefended. Can Deron Williams take advantage?

(Bonus: in today’s preview of the next episode of The Association, Williams acknowledges he hasn’t dunked yet this year. Is Nate Robinson the matchup to take advantage of?)

3) Noah’s effectiveness. Yes, all three things to watch at least tangentially have to do with Chicago’s defense — I really have to stress how good they are. Noah is one of the best defensive centers in the game and plays nearly 39 minutes per game. He’s an enormous cog in their defensive machine. He’s currently listed as a game-time decision, bur even if he does play, there’s a chance that his effectiveness will be limited. Worth keeping an eye on how quickly the Nets can attack the lane, if Noah’s not moving quickly enough to respond.