Still stinging from the 105-85 loss to Miami on Wednesday night, the Brooklyn Nets kick off their abbreviated February slate by hosting the Chicago Bulls tonight at Barclays Center.
It’s a new month for the Nets, who finished January 11-4, tying a franchise-high for wins in that month and also making 2012-13 the first season in franchise history featuring multiple 11-win months. As they start off February, they get a Bulls team that interim coach P.J. Carlesimo called “one of the best defensive teams in the league,” but it’s one that will definitely be playing without both Kirk Hinrich and All-Star forward Joakim Noah and may also be without Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah.
Hinrich, who has a burst bursa sac in his right elbow, has returned to Chicago to have the elbow evaluated, while Noah (right foot) told the media before the game that he won't play. Boozer (hamstring) is a game-time decision, but even if all three are out, interim coach P.J. Carlesimo still knows the Bulls will be a battle.
“It’s significant (if they’re out), but it doesn’t change the game plan; Kirk didn’t play when we played in Chicago, and Marquis (Teague) lit us up,” Carlesimo said. “He’s playing well, Nate Robinson is playing out of his mind…there have been nights where absences have benefitted us, and some where you can’t catch a break.”
Chicago has held each of their last seven opponents to 88 points or less, going 5-2 in that span, and Carlesimo credited Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau’s system for their surge even in the face of injury.
“They’re relentless, they’re consistent from possession to possession, and they’re able to execute a defensive game plan better than maybe any team in the league,” Carlesimo said. “They have a system that they tweak depending on the matchups, they have three aggressive bigs and great length, and Thibs (coach Tom Thibodeau) has a lot of good players for the system that are defending better than they have anywhere else.”
This is the second meeting of the season between the Nets and Bulls, the first being a nailbiter in the Windy City on Dec. 15 that the Bulls pulled out by a single point. That so far is the Nets’ only loss in 17 games this season where they’ve held their opponent under 90, but Carlesimo looks back at that loss as an opportunity for improvement.
“That was one of our better games, and if I recall correctly, that was something like our fourth game in five nights, so it was a great performance,” Carlesimo said of that December loss. “We were up four with the ball with about 1:20 to go, and we turned the ball over a few straight times and their last three shots of the game were layups, but I would absolutely take the first 46 minutes of that game without hesitation. Both teams are different now, and we need to play the way we played in the first half the other night.”
Carlesimo said that Deron Williams, who has been plagued by flu-like symptoms of late, will once again “play big minutes,” and it’s possible that with a huge night D-Will could pass the 5,000 career assists benchmark. He is 13 away from that milestone, and would become the seventh man to do it in less than 600 games, a factoid that brought high praise from the interim coach.
“There are aspects of Deron’s game that he doesn’t get credit for. Everyone knows he’s a good scorer, but he’s a way above average defensive point guard, and a way above average creator,” Carlesimo said. “It’s a tribute to him as well with how he’s handled dramatically different situations. If you watch Deron last year versus this year, it’s a dramatic difference with what he can do; so much of what he did with the Utah teams looked effortless because (Jerry) Sloan’s system was so good, and because he had different weapons.”
One of the guys who may not play big minutes, however, is MarShon Brooks, who has gotten inconsistent minutes of late; according to Carlesimo, Brooks’ role is heavily dependent on matchups and Carlesimo said that tonight’s isn’t in MarShon’s favor.
“Matchups – and how he handles them when they’re not good – determine a lot,” Carlesimo said. “There’s really not a favorable one tonight, even with Hinrich out. He’ll get out there, and when he gets his chance, if he plays well, particularly on the defensive end, he’ll get his minutes extended – but going into the game, I wouldn’t call this a good matchup.”
One other thing that Carlesimo will be looking out for is production from his power forwards. Reggie Evans has struggled of late, and Kris Humphries, who hasn’t played 30 minutes in a game since December 4, is down as well, but P.J. said that the “need for more” from his fours doesn’t boil down to a specific set of numbers or assignments.
“It’s not like we need, say, 14 points and 11 rebounds (from them) every night; unfortunately, it’s a combination of a lot of things,” Carlesimo said. “Tonight, for example, we need them to handle a hellacious matchup in Boozer or Joakim or Taj Gibson and defend a good scorer who can rebound. We need physicality tonight, and/or when Mirza comes in tonight, it could help us space the floor if he can come in and knock down a couple shots.”
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES