The Brooklyn Nets are not a good basketball team.
When healthy, the Chicago Bulls will be a tough out for any team in the Eastern Conference.
These two statements were rammed home in a lopsided affair at the Barclays Center Monday night. The Bulls overcame a sluggish start to completely outclass the Nets en route to a 27-point blowout win in which almost every Bull who stepped on the court looked good.
Rather than a blow-by-blow account of a largely pedestrian game – the Brooklyn crowd hardly betrayed the sense of urgency this game required from those wearing black and white – we’ll simply focus on the positives and negatives the Bulls can take from such a dominant win.
Derrick Rose (13 points, 5-13 shooting, 7 assists) looked the best he has since his return (small sample size, duh) and has now threaded together a pair of very good games. While 5-13 doesn’t read well, he was 5-10 at halftime including 2-3 from deep. Tonight his shot was falling with more regularity, he displayed an increased appetite to drive to the rim and his court vision seems to have improved. Either that or it just looks good when placed next to Kirk Hinrich and Aaron Brooks.
Regardless, Rose dished to his teammates early and often, finding passing lanes and angles to open shooters when the defense predictably collapsed around him.
Jimmy Butler (17 points, 7-10 shooting) may not be the overwhelming force of nature he was before Christmas, but his level of play is certainly close to that peak again. Taj Gibson (15 points, 5-6 shooting, 9 rebounds) is still a diminished player thanks to numerous ankle issues but he also has raised his game in the past week and is looking closer to his own peak level.
The Bulls biggest weapon in the playoffs will undoubtedly be Nikola Mirotic (26 points, 6-11 3pt shooting). The Serbian hit a career-high-tying 6 three-point field goals tonight including a barrage in the second half where he was running back on defense before the shot had even fallen.
Now, a lot of the good stuff the Bulls showed off tonight can be traced to a Brooklyn team who simply don’t belong in the playoffs. While the roster isn’t terrible, the mentality is non-existent. Tonight marked the second time in three years the Bulls have ended the Nets season on their own floor in humiliating fashion. Back then it was Joakim Noah running rampant in Game 7 despite having one functional leg/
Noah was listed as active but did not play tonight, likely given the night off to deal with what was called “left knee tendinitis” but was likely just a front to get him a much needed breather before this weekend.
The Bulls have now secured no worse than 4th as the Wizards cannot catch them from 5th. The Bulls now need to hope the Raptors trip up over their last two games to move back into the third seed and avoid the team who dumped them out of the first round last season.
The Nets may well live to regret this game. The Indiana Pacers leapfrogged them into 8th despite having the night off, though their remaining games against Washington and Memphis mean Brooklyn can still count themselves alive in the race for the final playoff spot in the East (Boston secured 7th with the Brooklyn loss).