Nets Cruise Past Streaking Bulls, Lopez Shines


“I think we’ve been capable of putting together an effort like this throughout the year…We just haven’t really sustained it the entire game and we did tonight. We can be a lot better than this.” – Brook Lopez

For the second game of a back to back, the Nets played team they have yet to figure out, the Chicago Bulls.  In a statement game, Brooklyn came out of the gate firing against the Bulls on their way to arguably their most impressive win of the season. The red hot Bulls scored only 82 points as they struggled to generate any sort of offensive rhythm with a bevy of missed shots caused by Brooklyn’s strong defensive efforts.

Chicago had blown out the Nets in their three previous meetings this season. Tonight, Brooklyn was able to force turnovers, shoot from the outside and limit the contributions from Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. Early on, the Nets couldn’t seem to find a way to stop Mike Dunleavey as he buried a flurry of long-range jumpers in the first half to give Chicago an early lead. Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack did an excellent job locking down Rose, holding him to only 4 points on 2-15 shooting from the field. Butler, the early season favorite for Most Improved Player in the league, wasn’t much better. Butler was shadowed by Joe Johnson for a majority of Tuesday night, only to tally 8 points while shooting 25% from the field.

The final score truly doesn’t tell the entire story of the night. Brooklyn held a sizeable lead for the majority of the second half and besides a late scoring flurry from the Bulls in garbage time, they were in danger of being held to single digits. Coming into this game, Chicago had been on a tear. The night before, they had squandered a 20-point lead to the Pacers only to pull it out in the final seconds to win their seventh straight and 10 of their last 11. During that stretch, the Bulls were averaging over 100 points per contest while beating teams with ease.

The win last night gave Brooklyn a much needed quality win. Although each win carries the same weight come playoff time, it was a pleasure to watch the Nets go on the road and beat an elite Eastern Conference team. It also marked their first win over a team with .500 record in nearly a month, when they pulled off the huge upset against the Spurs at Barclays Center.

With Kevin Garnett getting the night off, Lionel Hollins summoned Brook Lopez from the bench to start at center. To much surprise, Lopez had his best game of the year, scoring a season-high 29 points against a vaunted Bulls frontcourt. He got things going right from the inset to keep Brooklyn close in the first quarter after Chicago dropped 31 points. Lopez was extremely efficient from the field. He rarely forced shots and settled for mid-range jumpers that he’s known for hitting consistently. If Brooklyn can get a fraction of this performance from Lopez each night, whether its in a starter or reserve role, their success should continue.

It appeared as though the Bulls were on their way to another high-scoring contest but the Nets had other plans. The main turning point in the game occurred two minutes into the second quarter when Aaron Brooks was issued two technical fouls during a timeout. After he was tossed, the Nets would go on a massive scoring run, pushing the lead to double digits by half time. In both games of the back to back, Brooklyn was able to bury their opponents in the second quarter and preserved the lead for the remainder of the game. That’s one way to combat their usual third quarter woes..especially when you hold Chicago to under 15 points in both the 2nd and 4th quarters.

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Although Jarrett Jack received yet another start, Deron Williams was given extended minutes to help Brooklyn attain a large lead in the second quarter. As stated before, Hollins was able to thrive off the luxury of having All-Star talent on the bench. Williams was able to match the up-tempo style of play that Rose and Butler like to create on a nightly basis. At times he looked sloppy and shot 1-8 from the field, Deron posted a +27 plus/minus rating when he was on the court. He helped the Nets answer any come back attempt from Chicago and did a great job facilitating the basketball along with Jarrett Jack. In  his sixth straight start, Jack played 20 minutes, scoring 11 points and leading the team with five assists.

While Sergey Karasev struggled against Mike Dunleavy and had another rough night offensively, Alan Anderson was able to come in off the bench, yet again and provide a spark for Brooklyn. Anderson, who helped lead the Nets back on Friday against Boston with his tight defense and excellent shooting for the outside, had another strong performance with 11 points. He’s destined for increase minutes and potentially another chance at starting due to Karasev’s recent struggles and the banishment of Bojan Bogdanovic to the end of the bench. With Anderson, it goes without saying that you can expect toughness each night on both sides of the ball with the ability to rebound and shoot from long range. We’ll see how Hollins deals with the shooting guard position over the next few games.

Due to the contributions of Brook Lopez, Mason Plumlee was not relied on as much as he had been the past two weeks. Regardless, He tallied yet another strong performance on both sides of the court with 6 points on only 4 shots while pulling in 8 boards. Look for Plumlee to have his work cut out for him next game against Orlando and perennial all-star Nikola Vucevic. Orlando is a young and hungry squad that gave Brooklyn some trouble in their first meeting this season. A win would give the Nets another three game winning streak in a two-week stretch. A soft schedule lies ahead until their road trip so it is crucial for Brooklyn to keep winning games against under .500 squads and play well like last night against the upper echelon clubs.

Nets fans were very optimistic about this win becoming a turning point in the season. I’d have to agree. They’ve won 5 out of their last 6 games and are finally playing with a full deck. It wouldn’t be an knee-jerk reaction to proclaim that last night’s win could change the team’s mentality going forward which in turn would spark a lengthy stretch of inspired basketball.

The Nets are known to get hot right after the calenders change to a new year. Last year, Brooklyn went on a surge when Plumlee started filling in for Garnett and the new lineup began to gel, even with the loss of Brook Lopez. The year before that, PJ Carlesimo navigated the Nets to a huge upset against the Thunder in OKC the day after New Years. He would lead the Nets to a 35-19 record as interim coach before bowing out the Bulls in the first round.

It would appear that Lionel Hollins has finally settled on a rotation; that includes two of their highest paid players coming off the bench. As long as he has their support and willingness to succeed, I see no reason why the Nets cannot replicate a turnaround similar to the ones that occurred each of the past two years. They’re 15-16, a lot more favorable than the 10-21 mark last season and this lineup includes a healthy Brook Lopez, a rested Deron Williams and a more polished Mason Plumlee. We’ll see how the rest of the season unfolds.

Happy New Years and most importantly, Go Nets.