The Brooklyn Nets will complete their 12th of 20 back-to-back sets Thursday night when they face the Chicago Bulls at United Center. Then it’s finally the All-Star break. Here’s what we’ll be watching for:
REVERSING A TREND: The Nets (24-26) are 0-5 in the second game of home/away back-to-backs. As Joe Johnson pointed out, the veteran team arrives in the cities of its road opponents very late and never seems to be able bring the required energy and effort needed to prevail. Kevin Garnett will start -- he’s appeared in just three of those five games, resting in the other two -- Nets coach Jason Kidd told reporters before the game.
STILL GOT IT: Garnett and Paul Pierce are shooting 64.9 percent and 57.1 percent in their past five games, respectively, and have been a huge part of Brooklyn’s turnaround. Pierce had 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting in Wednesday night’s 16-point win over the visiting Charlotte Bobcats. As Pierce pointed out, a victory would allow the Nets to surpass the Washington Wizards and move into fifth place in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, so this is a big game.
THAT’S NO BULL: The Bulls (26-25) have been surviving just fine without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng thanks to the coaching brilliance of Tom Thibodeau. Joakim Noah (11.8 PPG, 11.5 RPG) embodies the toughness that this team possesses. Jimmy Butler is playing a ton of minutes -- averaging 41.0 over his past five games. Taj Gibson has emerged as the team’s go-to option on offense, averaging 22.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in his past three games. The Bulls whupped the Nets on Christmas, so Deron Williams thinks it’s “payback time.” We’ll have to wait and see on that one.