Tonight, the Brooklyn Nets (27-19) will host the Chicago Bulls (28-17) for the first time ever at Barclays Center. The Nets have not been playing well lately and have been blown out in 3 of their past 4 games including on Wednesday night against Miami. The Bulls have been heading in the opposite direction and have won 5 of 6. They also have the best road record in the entire NBA at 13-6.
In these teams’ first meeting this year, Chicago held on to win by 1 point at home led by 19 points from Marco Belinelli. That was a very winnable game for Brooklyn, who was in control for most of the game. However, that game was right in the middle of the Avery Johnson collapse and the Nets are a much better team now than they were then. Tonight’s game will be important because the Nets trail the Bulls by only 1 1/2 games for third place in the east. This game will contribute in determining the east’s playoff picture.
In addition to Chicago’s great road record, there are some other streaks on the line tonight in this game. Firstly, this team simply does not lose on Friday nights. This year they are 7-0 playing on Friday. Last year in the regular season, they were 8-1 on Fridays. The year before that, they finished the regular season going 7-1 in their last 8 Friday games. Combined, Chicago is 22-2 in their last 24 Friday games. That is impressive. Additionally, a streak that might be even more amazing is that Chicago has now won 41 straight games when scoring 100+ points, which has tied San Antonio for the NBA record. If the Bulls score 100 points and win tonight, they will break that record.
Injuries: The Nets are still healthy with the exception of Toko Shengelia. The Bulls definitely have their share of injuries. Derrick Rose still hasn’t played this year. Also, Carlos Boozer, who has been playing very well this year, is questionable in this game with a hamstring injury.
Deron Williams vs. Kirk Hinrich. Advantage: Williams
Kirk Hinrich has replaced C.J. Watson as the backup point guard in Chicago this year and has started most games for the Bulls this year with the Derrick Rose injury. He is averaging 7 points and 5 assists while shooting only 38% from the field in 28 minutes per game, so he has not been extremely effective. Nate Robinson will be coming off the bench and he has the ability to be very explosive and can score 20 any night. Hopefully Deron Williams will be fully recovered from the flu he had on Wednesday during the Heat game.
Joe Johnson vs. Richard Hamilton. Advantage: Johnson
Hamilton has returned to being a full-time starter for Chicago this year and is playing pretty well for a 35-year old. He is averaging 11 points and 3 assists while shooting 39% from 3. He is still one of the best NBA players at moving without the ball and he will knock down his open mid-range and long-range shots so Joe Johnson will need to stick on him. Joe Johnson is due for a big game. Hopefully he will have one tonight.
Gerald Wallace vs. Luol Deng. Advantage: Deng
With the Derrick Rose, injury, Luol Deng has been Chicago’s go-to player on offense this year, which earned him an all-star spot. He is averaging 17 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3 assists this year while leading Chicago. He is a consistent player who will typically take around 15 shots per game. Jimmy Butler and Marco Belinelli will be coming off the bench for Chicago at small forward. Butler has been a nice surprise for the Bulls this year and Belinelli has been known to burn the Nets in the past, including in the first meeting between these teams this year.
Reggie Evans vs. Carlos Boozer/Taj Gibson. Advantage: Boozer/Gibson
My guess is that Boozer will not play, but Taj Gibson is a very good substitute. Gibson is averaging 7 points and 5 rebounds per game for the Bulls in only 20 minutes this season. He is a hustle player who has a knack for grabbing offensive rebounds and putting them back for dunks and layups. Reggie Evans had one of his worst games of the season on Wednesday after calling out Lebron. Hopefully he will have a bounce back game tonight.
Brook Lopez vs. Joakim Noah. Advantage: Lopez
This is the matchup between an eastern conference center selected by the coaches for the all-star game and an eastern conference center who was selected by David Stern. Noah is not a bad player, but it is clear that Lopez is having the better season. Noah averages 12 points and 11 rebounds per game and most of those come from his good hustle. He is an energy player who likes annoying his opponents and he is active on defense. Brook has been the most consistent player for Brooklyn this year and should still be able to score around 20 points tonight.
Prediction: Bulls 94, Nets 83.
I don’t like the Nets’ chances in this game. Chicago is playing much better than Brooklyn this year and is not afraid to go on the road to play in hostile environments. The bigger the road game, the more fired up this team gets. The P.J. Carlesimo honeymoon is over and the Nets have stopped playing well. They need to find a way to turn this around quickly.