Thursday, November 30, 2023
5-Hour Energy

NBA Preview: Chicago Bulls (15-8) at Brooklyn Nets (16-6)

Through their first 23 games, the Chicago Bulls have produced numerous impressive moments, anchored by the standout performances of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine.

Among Chicago’s more notable wins is a 23-point rout of the Brooklyn Nets last month. The Bulls get another crack at the Nets on Saturday night when the top two teams in the Eastern Conference get together in New York.

The Bulls are off to their best 23-game start since the 2015-16 edition also won 15 of its first 23 games under Fred Hoiberg. This year’s club appears to own more offensive firepower and staying power than that 42-win team thanks to DeRozan and LaVine.

DeRozan is averaging 26.3 points, up from the 21.6 he averaged in 61 games for the San Antonio Spurs last season and his best scoring average since he produced a career-high 27.3 per game for the Toronto Raptors in 2016-17. He is shooting 49.5 percent from the floor and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

LaVine is averaging 25.4 points on 48.8 percent shooting, including 38.8 percent from behind the arc.

Either DeRozan or LaVine has been Chicago’s leading scorer in 22 of the 23 games this season. Both played prominent roles in helping the Bulls to a 119-115 road win over the New York Knicks on Thursday that gave them three victories in four games.

“Zach carried a lot of the load my first year,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I think Zach is learning to play with DeMar. I think DeMar is learning to play with Zach.”

DeRozan scored 18 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter to help Chicago fend off New York’s comeback from a 21-point deficit. LaVine added 27 points, as did Nikola Vucevic, who put up a season-high 30 points Monday against the Charlotte Hornets.

“It’s fun when we go out there and compete,” DeRozan said. “We face adversity at times, and it felt good when we come out of that on top.”

DeRozan and the Bulls also experienced plenty of fun in the fourth quarter of their 118-95 home win over Brooklyn on Nov. 8. DeRozan scored 10 of his 28 in the final period as the Bulls outscored the Nets 42-17.

Brooklyn’s ugly loss to Chicago was part of its struggles against top-echelon teams so far. The Nets hold the top record in the East but are 1-3 against the teams in second through fifth in the conference (the Bulls, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards and Milwaukee Bucks) and 0-2 against the top two in the West (Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns).

On Friday, the Nets eked out a 110-105 win over the visiting Minnesota Timberwolves in a game that featured little flow and a combined 56 fouls. The Nets never led by more than seven and did not take the lead for good until Patty Mills hit a 3-pointer with 4:09 left.

While most teams are apprehensive about playing a back-to-back, the Nets are looking forward to it.

“Great challenge for us,” said Brooklyn coach Steve Nash, whose team is 14-3 in its past 17 games. “Fortunately we get to play (Saturday) because nobody was happy with that performance.

“We found a way to win ugly. It was not a classic for us.”

Kevin Durant scored nine of his 30 points in the fourth quarter Friday as the Nets prevailed in a game that featured 26 lead changes. Despite playing 37:47 Durant is expected to play against Chicago, an opponent he lit up for 38 points last month.

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