Nets-Bulls Preview

Despite having a short-handed backcourt, the Chicago Bulls are

playing some of their best basketball of the season.

The streaky Brooklyn Nets have also gotten back to winning, but

might have to try to extend their run without one of their key


The Bulls look for their fifth win in six games, while the Nets

seek their third straight victory on Saturday night in Chicago.

Already without star Derrick Rose, Chicago (12-9) has had to

move on without backup point guard Kirk Hinrich and starting

shooting guard Richard Hamilton.

Hinrich sat out a 96-89 victory at Philadelphia on Wednesday

after bruising his left knee against the Los Angeles Clippers on

Tuesday and is day-to-day.

While Hamilton (foot) has missed six games and isn’t expected to

return until the end of the month, the Bulls have received some

major contributions from their replacements.

Nate Robinson scored 14 points as the starter in place of

Hinrich against the 76ers. Marco Belinelli added 16 and has

averaged 16.8 per game since moving into the lineup at shooting


“There’s a lot of basketball left and we have to keep playing

like this,” center Joakim Noah said after scoring 21 points. “We

had everyone here contribute. That’s what you need.”

Noah may not need to defend Brooklyn’s leading scorer Brook

Lopez on Saturday.

While Lopez was back in the starting lineup Friday after missing

seven games with a sprained right foot, coach Avery Johnson said he

would be re-evaluated before the team determines if he’ll play

versus the Bulls.

Lopez scored nine points in 24 minutes in a 107-105

double-overtime victory over Detroit after the Nets (13-9) went 2-5

in his absence.

Andray Blatche had 16 points off the bench and is likely to fill

in again after averaging 17.6 in the seven games Lopez missed.

The Nets’ defense, however, seemed to take a bit of a hit

without Lopez, who ranks among the league leaders with 2.5 blocks

per game after recording three on Friday.

Brooklyn has given up 94.3 points per game this season, but

allowed 99.9 during the stretch without Lopez.

The Nets followed a five-game win streak with five consecutive

losses before rebounding to win 94-88 at Toronto on Wednesday and a

buzzer-beater at home on Friday.

Joe Johnson made a jumper from just inside the arc as time

expired in the second overtime to give Brooklyn the win after

blowing a 17-point lead.

“The coaches and, like I say, my teammates have the confidence

in putting the ball in my hands down the stretch, then I have to

come up big for us,” Johnson said.

Johnson finished with 28 points and has 51 on 19-of-36 shooting

in back-to-back wins.

Brooklyn has shot 47.6 percent from the field in its last three

games, but is likely to find the going much tougher against the


Chicago has allowed 88.2 points while holding opponents to 41.4

percent from the field in winning seven of 10. The Bulls rank near

the top of the NBA in both categories.

Carlos Boozer will try to bounce back after finishing with five

points on Wednesday. He averaged 18.0 points on 64.7 percent (22 of

34) from the field as the Bulls won two of three against the Nets

last season.

Chicago has won eight of 10 at the United Center in the series,

but the Nets took the last meeting, 97-85, on Feb. 18 behind 29

points from Deron Williams.