Ya win some … then you win some more. Not only did the Nets trounce the fourth seed Hornets, 120-108, Thursday night, they introduced a new starter, LaMarcus Aldridge.
Aldridge, who hadn’t played in a month after being shut down by the Spurs, had 11 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, a 3-pointer and a block in 33 minutes. His +22 rating was his best since December 28, 2019 and in one first quarter stretch the 6’11” center accounted for 15 straight points for Brooklyn, either scoring or assisting.
The opponent Sunday afternoon will be the new-look Chicago Bulls. It’s an odd road trip. The game is sandwiched between a four-game trip and a three-game trip. Go figure.
Fighting for a place in the NBA’s play-in tournament, the denizens of the Windy City are now the 10th seed in the East, just barely in post-season with a record of 19-28, four games behind the 8th seed but only five and a half out of fourth. That’s the way of the East. The Nets, 76ers and Bucks dominate while the rest of the conference hope for lightning to strike.
The Bulls remade themselves at the trade deadline, sending Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two firsts to Orlando for Nikola Vucevic and Al Farouq Aminu. So far, it hasn’t worked. In the four games, Vucevic has played, the Bulls have racked up four losses while he’s averaged 20.5 points and nine rebounds. Worse yet, the Bulls have lost six straight.
Where to follow the game
It’s going to get tricky. The game is the first of 13 on something called the “YES2 Network,” a loose configuration of cable channels YES put together because of the annual conflict with Yankee games. Problem is that there are whole swaths of the New York area, primarily in New Jersey, where the game will be unavailable on TV. If you have Xfinity from Comcast, you’re out of luck. So download the YES app if you live in those areas and console yourself knowing that seven of the 13 YES2 games will also be carried on national TV, including four of the next five. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 2:00 PM ET.
Kevin Durant and James Harden (both hamstring) are out. Stay patient. This may be the last game before the Big Three are reunited on court. Spencer Dinwiddie is out, too, of course. Blake Griffin is available meaning we might get to see him and Aldridge together.
Our old friend, Garrett Temple, is out, like KD and Harden with hamstring issues. Zach LaVine, who played Friday, is still listed as day-to-day, as is Coby White.
This is the first of three meetings between the two teams. The other two will be played the last week of the season.
Despite the trade deadline makeover, which also included the addition of Daniel Theis and Javonte Green, late of the Celtics, the Bulls are spiraling, losing eight of their last nine and six straight, four on a just concluded West Coast swing.
There are a number of problems starting with the integration of all the new faces, particularly Vucevic, with the remaining roster. For example, there’s the uncertainty about whether Vucevic and Lauri Markkanen will fit up front. The fourth year pro was once considered a core piece along with Zach LaVine but his inconsistency and injury history has him in the doghouse, backing up Vucevic. Now, the core is LaVine, Vucevic and Patrick Williams, the 6’8” power forward who’s all of 19 and with great potential.
The big current issue, though, is at point guard. Tomas Satoransky and Coby White aren’t getting it done the way coach Billy Donovan would like. Here’s Joe Crowley of the Sun-Times on the Bulls’ point guard situation after Friday’s loss to Utah.
“There’s things that Sato can do better,” coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s things that Coby can do better. I would hope those guys are not satisfied with where they’re at. Do I think both can be better? Absolutely. I think everybody on our team can be better. I think we as coaches can be better. That’s the real key. Am I satisfied with them? Yes. I’m satisfied with them, but I hope there’s more in them to get better. They both have to get better. We have to get better.’’
And there’s the problem. Donovan can’t lean on his guards from game to game, as good NBA playoff teams usually do.
Of course, the backcourt is the Nets strong point. Interestingly, Sam Smith, the Hall of Fame basketball writer who know works for the Bulls website, wrote this week about how the Nets strength in the back court could lead to a long-term solution for the Bulls. Smith likes Spencer Dinwiddie who the Bulls cut in 2016 and sent to the G League where the Nets plucked him out of obscurity. Smith describes that how Dinwiddie could fit if he opts out of his option and becomes a free agent.
They let him languish with the Windy City Bulls while they tried out other point guards. His story and recovery have been remarkable, and he’s not too old. You figure there’s no future for him with the Nets, who can just do buyouts the rest of the run until the league bans that biased practice. He’s more of a scorer, but I do like him to run a team. I wouldn’t be opposed to taking a chance, though with the ACLs, off course, it would be a risk. Plural ACLs while possible, aren’t great. He’s a heck of an interesting guy…
In the meantime, the Bulls desperately need a win and the Nets. So does Vucevic whose teams are 2-15 going back to February 15. One of those of course was against the Nets as a member of the Magic on March 24.
Player to watch
Just when you thought you’d seen enough of Nikola Vucevic, here he comes again, this time in a Bulls uniform. The well-known Nets killer averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds against the Nets in three games playing for Orlando before the deadline. Now, he’ll get to torment the Nets three more times as a Bull starting Sunday!
Here’s a highlight reel from his best game against the Nets, back in January when he put up 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists while shooting 6-of-12 from three.
No need for a lot of analysis. Vucevic destroys the Nets. Note this, however. That was a matinee game as well and that Nets won.
It’ll be interesting to see how LaMarcus Aldridge handles Vucevic. They didn’t play each other this season, but last year, the two faced off twice as members of the Spurs and Magic respectively. In those two games, Vucevic was 4-of-16 and 7-of-16 and scored 26 points. As noted, Vucevic averaged 28 points a game vs. the Nets.
From the Vault
Lets go back to the 1998 Eastern Conference playoffs, Round 1 because, well, Michael Jordan. Jordan said before the game that the only way the New Jersey Nets could win even one game in the best-of-five series was if the Bulls “fell asleep.” In Game 1, the Nets were woke, taking the Bulls into OT until MJ said, enough.
More reading: Blog-a-Bull.