If the Nets were ever going to upset the Chicago Bulls, Wednesday night was it. Brooklyn was playing its home opener at the Barclays Center, while the Bulls faced their second game in as many nights.
With Chicago flying in after its opening win against the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night, Brooklyn failed to take advantage. The Nets resembled many of those dire preseason prognostications, falling 115-100.
In the process, the Bulls exemplified why they are in the discussion for an eventual spot in the Finals. They buried 14-of-28 from beyond the arc, while the Nets failed to convert a single three-pointer in the loss.
Jimmy Butler poured in 24 points on 11 shots, and Nikola Mirotic tallied 18 points on 10 shot attempts. “We’re good on offense,” Butler said. “Everybody is taking and making shots with confidence. We’re hard to guard when we’re [making threes] because that leaves me and Derrick doing what we do best–attacking the rim.”
The Nets, on the other hand, proved that they can be labeled a “work in progress” for the foreseeable future. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young performed ably, while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson displayed his defensive prowess. The rookie knocked down a few jumpers, as well, finishing 4-for-6 from the field. But the defense, shooting, and sustainable energy all went lacking.
“You have to make shots, you have to make layups, you have to make mid-range shots, and you have to make shots in the paint,” head coach Lionel Hollins said. “(We shot) 39-for-93; we didn’t make them anywhere.”
The Nets leaned on Lopez, who scored a game-high 26 points (10-for-17) and grabbed seven rebounds. “I think the way we started off both halves, we didn’t give ourselves a lot of room for error,” Lopez said. “I didn’t play well in the pick-and-roll defensively, and I think they took advantage of that.”
The Bulls finished the game shooting 53.8 percent from the field and led by as many as 19 points.
The Nets played the game without starting point guard Jarrett Jack. The veteran has missed time due to an injured hamstring, leaving former Knick Shane Larkin as his replacement. Donald Sloan, who won the third-string point guard spot over rookie Ryan Boatright, served as Larkin’s backup against the Bulls.
Larkin and Sloan combined to score eight points on 3-for-12 shooting.
Despite missing the preseason, Andrea Bargnani returned to the Brooklyn lineup. With Willie Reed expected to miss up to eight weeks with a torn ligament in his right thumb, Bargnani is the lone substitute for Lopez. The reserve center was the second highest scoring Net, pouring in 17 points in 22 minutes.
Chris McCullough continues to miss time while rehabbing his right knee. The Syracuse product suffered the injury last year in college, and his original time frame for basketball activity was November. The Nets are expected to be cautious with his return to action, however.
In the meantime, the Bulls were without swingman Mike Dunleavy, who is out with a lower back injury.
The long road
The Nets’ early season schedule does them no favors, as road contests with Western Conference powers San Antonio and Memphis await.
The team’s first five opponents played in the 2014-15 NBA playoffs, and Brooklyn will have to wait until Nov. 6 to face a non-playoff team (Los Angeles Lakers). Eight of the Nets’ ensuing 10 games also come against playoff opponents. The two games against the Sacramento Kings and Charlotte Hornets are on the road, though.
Ten of the Nets’ first 15 games come on the road. “We’ve got to worry about one first,” forward Joe Johnson said. “We’ll worry about San Antonio and then we’ll worry about Memphis later.”