The Brooklyn Nets enter the post-All-Star break portion of the season in a decidedly different frame of mind than when play tipped off in October.
Ditto for the Chicago Bulls.
Both teams harbored aspirations for big things in 2022-23, but as the Bulls host the Nets on Friday, preseason perception and midseason reality don’t exactly align.
Brooklyn traded stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in recent weeks, while Chicago lost six in a row before the break to fall out of position for the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.
The Nets still stand fifth in the East but know they’ll face a challenge without their top stars. Nic Claxton is Brooklyn’s leading remaining scorer (12.8 points per game) and rebounder (9.0 rpg).
To coach Jacque Vaughn, who signed a contract extension Tuesday, Brooklyn’s best path to success is through defense.
“Our roster is situated where that starting five really can take advantage of doing different things defensively, and so if there’s a bullet point under that defensive piece, it is, ‘How can we turn teams over more?'” Vaughn said. “I think we can be a top-10 defensive team if we take that step of turning teams over; so (it’s) a great challenge for us that way, and that’s going to come from some non-traditional ways.”
Offensively, then, the aim is for the Nets to pump up the pace.
“That’s increasing our transition attempts and threes, that’s our kick-aheads, that’s our potential assists,” Vaughn said. “So a lot of bullet points (are) underneath that, just because we don’t have the shot creators like we used to. So we’ve got to be smart in the way we play on the offensive end of the floor.”
Chicago is seeking its first victory since Feb. 6, when a 24-point home rout of San Antonio extended the team’s winning streak to three games.
The surge marked the Bulls’ fourth three-game winning streak of the season, but inconsistency and injuries have contributed to their inability to go on an extended run.
“We’re not just throwing in the towel,” Chicago’s Zach LaVine said. “I don’t think we have the type of team to do that. Losing hurts. Everybody is frustrated. But we’re doing our jobs every day. We’re the ones who have to figure it out. Nobody else is.”
Hoping to boost the team’s energy and solidify the point guard position for a playoff push, during the All-Star break the Bulls signed veteran Patrick Beverley, a Chicago native. Beverley was waived by Orlando after reaching a buyout agreement following a Feb. 9 trade from the Los Angeles Lakers.
“The way I play, I run through a wall for any team,” Beverley said. “This is even more. It’s the city where I’m from, so I don’t know what might happen. I might pull some (stuff) out I ain’t never did before. I’m super stoked, can’t wait to get started.
“This is good energy, fresh energy.”
Chicago has won two of the first three meetings with Brooklyn and is trying to secure the season series for the second straight season. Spencer Dinwiddie scored 25 points to lift the Nets to a 116-105 home win on Feb. 9.
Bulls leading scorer DeMar DeRozan (hip) participated in a non-contact practice Wednesday and said Thursday the hip is feeling better.
LaVine is averaging 26.7 points per game against the Nets this season.
–Field Level Media