Bulls-Nets Preview

What might have been viewed as a Christmas Day showdown between

Eastern Conference contenders has become a matchup of two of the

NBA’s biggest disappointments.

The Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets are nowhere near where they

thought they’d be at this point in the season.

The short-handed Bulls will try to win consecutive games for the

first time in more than a month, while the injury-ravaged Nets hope

to avoid their fourth straight defeat when the teams meet Wednesday

in Brooklyn.

In addition to Derrick Rose, Chicago (10-16) is expected to be

without leading scorer Luol Deng because of a sore left Achilles,

while Jimmy Butler (sprained right ankle) and Kirk Hinrich (back)

will likely be game-time decisions.

Without all four players, the Bulls avoided a fifth straight

loss with a 100-84 victory over visiting Cleveland on Saturday.

Carlos Boozer led the way with 19 points, while Tony Snell had 17

with five 3-pointers and Joakim Noah added 11 with 18 rebounds.

D.J. Augustin also provided a spark with a season-high 18 points

and 10 assists as Chicago ended its longest skid in four years

under coach Tom Thibodeau. Signed on Dec. 13 to help fill in for

Rose, Augustin has averaged 13.8 points and 8.0 assists while

hitting 11 of 24 from 3-point range in his last four games.

“As we get bodies back, D.J. gets comfortable, I said all along

that I have great belief in this team,” said Thibodeau, whose club

has dropped 13 of 17 since Nov. 21.

Since averaging 79.5 points on 36.1 percent shooting over a

six-game stretch earlier this month, the Bulls have scored 96.3 per

game with a 46.2 field-goal percentage in their last three. On

Saturday, they shot a season-high 53.6 percent while reaching 100

points for the first time since a 107-87 win over Miami on Dec.

5.

Chicago hasn’t earned back-to-back victories since a season-best

five-game run from Nov. 8-18.

The Nets (9-18) hardly resemble the same team the Bulls knocked

out in Game 7 of last season’s first-round playoff series. Though

they were thinking big with the offseason trade that brought in

Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, those high expectations

have dissipated over an injury-plagued first few months.

Brook Lopez, averaging a team-leading 20.7 points, became the

latest to go down when he broke a bone in his right foot during

Friday’s 121-120 overtime loss at Philadelphia.

In their first game since Lopez was ruled out for the season,

the Nets dropped their third straight with a 103-86 loss to

visiting Indiana on Monday. They fell to 2-8 without their All-Star

center, who had missed nine games earlier this season with ankle

trouble.

The Nets shot just 38.2 percent from the field while missing 20

of 26 from beyond the arc after averaging 106.9 points on 49.4

percent shooting – including 47.2 from 3-point range – in their

previous seven games.

Joe Johnson finished with 17 points, but Garnett had 12 on

3-of-10 shooting and Deron Williams added nine while missing 6 of 9

from the field. Pierce, who went 0 for 7 before getting ejected for

a flagrant foul on Indiana’s George Hill, failed to score for only

the second time in his 15-year career. Pierce was fined $15,000 on

Tuesday for the foul.

“We’re kind of getting comfortable with losing and we’ve got to

make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just

give in?” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “And most of the time right

now we do.”

Terry scored 11 after missing 15 games with a bruised left knee,

and Kidd could be getting more help with Andrei Kirilenko (back)

hoping to return against the Bulls.

Chicago has won seven of the last nine regular-season

meetings.