Bulls, Nets face off looking to future

CHICAGO – From a standings perspective, the Brooklyn Nets don’t have much left to play for this season.

But don’t tell that to Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who, heading into Saturday’s road game against the Chicago Bulls, isn’t finished finding positives from an otherwise disappointing season. The glimmers of hope come after the Nets (26-53) connected on 19 3-point field goals and shot 48.7 percent from beyond the arc on Thursday in a 119-111 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Nets finished with at least 10 long-distance connections for the 14th consecutive game, which tied a franchise record. Brooklyn snapped a two-game losing streak despite playing without injured forward DeMarre Carroll (left hip) and center Jahlil Okafor (right ankle).

Now, the Nets will look to keep building momentum for the future when they play the Bulls, who, like Brooklyn, remain focused on the bigger picture.

“I keep saying, ‘We’re playing for a lot’,” Atkinson told reporters after Thursday’s victory in Milwaukee. “We’re playing for our future, we’re playing for our culture…we’re playing for our fans.”

How close to full strength the Nets will be Saturday in Chicago remains uncertain. Carroll is listed as day-to-day for the remainder of the season while it’s possible Okafor could play against the Bulls.

While Allen Crabbe paced Brooklyn’s offense against the Bucks with 25 points, Nets center Jarrett Allen blocked a career-high five shots on a night when the Nets blocked 12 shots despite being without Carroll and Okafor.

“(Allen) has to be our paint-patroller and rim protector,” Atkinson told reporters after Thursday’s victory.

The Bulls (27-52) saw their three-game winning streak snapped on Friday with a 111-104 loss to the Boston Celtics. Chicago wraps up its home slate on Saturday against the Nets, and the Bulls will face the Nets again on Monday in Brooklyn before wrapping up the regular season on the road against the Detroit Pistons.

For everything this season has produced, between the fight between then-teammates Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic to start the season, injuries and a focus on the future, coach Fred Hoiberg has appreciated the way his team handled what proved to be a season-long roller-coaster ride.

While the Bulls have spent the season in the first year of what is expected to be a multi-year rebuilding process, Hoiberg has been forced to remain patient with a young group of players.

“I give our guys a lot of credit,” Hoiberg said this week, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I’ve said it all along: Our guys have played the right way. They’ve found a way to fight through adversity.

“That has been our message to our team – we’re not looking at the end of the game when we come in here, win-loss. The wins are obviously nice, but you’re looking at, did you play harder than the other team? And, for the most part, our guys have competed at a very high level every time they stepped on the floor.”

Like Atkinson, Hoiberg sees value in how the Bulls finish the final three games of the year as he and the Bulls front office begin to plan ahead to next year. Chicago is building around is young core of talent that includes rookie Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, both of whom have been shut down for the season due to injuries.

“You look at the standings, where we are and what we’re still trying to accomplish,” Hoiberg said. “And there are still some important minutes this season.”