The Brooklyn Nets (43-31) will finally return home tonight after their season long 8-game road trip to play an important game against the Chicago Bulls (40-33). This will be one of the few remaining important games on the Nets’ schedule seeing that Manhattan and Indiana are nearly un-catchable at this point. The Nets are coming off a blowout win last night in Cleveland which finished their road trip at a very respectable 5-3. Chicago has had its share of impressive wins this year, including ending Miami’s 27-game winning streak, but they have been inconsistent, especially on the road. Since February, the Bulls are only 12-16 and they are coming off of a loss in Washington on Tuesday.
This game is an important one for the Nets because it will help determine their first round playoff opponent. It looks like it will either be Chicago or Atlanta and there is no question that the Nets would much prefer to play Atlanta. The Hawks will not have Lou Williams or Zaza Pachulia in the playoffs and are thought of as a weaker team than Chicago. The Bulls have been dealing with injuries all season long, but they should have Joakim Noah and Richard Hamilton back in time for the playoffs. Derrick Rose might even be back, which would make this team extremely dangerous.
With a win tonight, Brooklyn will allow Atlanta, who is ahead of Chicago by percentage points in the standings, to control its own destiny to get the 5-seed and play Brooklyn in the first round. Of course, the Nets haven’t quite locked up the 4-seed yet, but it is looking more and more likely that the 4 is where they will end up.
Injuries: The Nets have two starters that will probably not play Thursday in Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace. It’s still unclear when they will return. The Bulls have lots and lots of injuries. Derrick Rose obviously won’t play. Marco Belinelli, Richard Hamilton, and Joakim Noah are also all doubtful.
Deron Williams vs. Kirk Hinrich. Advantage: Williams
We all know what Deron Williams has been doing since the all-star break. He had another good game last night in Cleveland. Hinrich has been filling in for Derrick Rose this year and is averaging 7 points and 5 assists per game. Nate Robinson will also get a lot of playing time, and you never know what will happen when Nate plays.
Marshon Brooks vs. Jimmy Butler. Advantage: Butler
This is a matchup between two late first round picks in the 2011 draft. Butler gets the advantage here because he plays better defense, but Marshon Brooks had a career night last night. These players are familiar with each other as they both played in the Big East at the same time, Brooks from Providence and Butler from Marquette. Don’t expect Marshon to score 20 or more points against a very good defense in Chicago.
Keith Bogans vs. Luol Deng. Advantage: Deng
Deng will need to carry a significant load on offense with all the injuries the Bulls have suffered, but he is one of the most consistent players in the NBA. He will get around 15 points and 6 rebounds each and every night. Bogans was 0-5 from 3 last night.
Reggie Evans vs. Carlos Boozer. Advantage: Boozer
Boozer is nearly averaging a double-double with 16 points and 9 rebounds per game this season. He has scored at least 16 points in 8 of his past 10 games with the recent Chicago injuries. Reggie has ben a rebounding machine lately, getting at least 15 boards almost nightly. These are two of the better rebounding teams in the league, but Reggie should still be able to do his thing.
Brook Lopez vs. Nazr Mohammed. Advantage: Lopez
This is another opportunity for Brook Lopez against another team that really doesn’t have anybody who can defend him with Noah out. Mohammed is only averaging 9 minutes per game this year and he is the Bulls’ only center. If Lopez can get Mohammed into foul trouble early, he could have a very nice game.
Prediction: Nets 101, Bulls 92.
The Bulls rarely get blown out and this will be a close game, but the Bulls just have too many major injuries right now to compete with the Nets, who are dealing with some injuries themselves. The Nets are happy to be back home and they will put on a good show for their fans for the first time in nearly 3 weeks.