Bulls bring it home vs. Nets

Bulls bring it home vs. Nets
April 25, 2013, 10:00 am
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Mark Strotman

Joe Johnson is nursing a hurt foot, but he won't receive any sympathy points from the Bulls. His health could be a key factor in tonight's Game 3 matchup against the Bulls at the United Center. Coverage begins with Bulls Pregame Live at 7 p.m. with Mark Schanowski, Sidney Green and Will Perdue. And make sure to keep it with CSN after the game for Postgame Live.

The summer of 2010 was one of the most historic off-seasons in NBA history. When the calendar flipped to July it opened up a free agency floodgate like the league had never seen before, as All Stars such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire, David Lee and Carlos Boozer -- just to name the headliners -- all hit the open market. Everyone knows how the Heatles were created, Boozer opted for Chicago to team up with Derrick Rose and Stoudemire hit the jackpot in New York.

Yet as millions upon millions of dollars were promised to some of the game’s best players, who was the player who took home the most lucrative contract during that hectic summer? It was Johnson, who signed a six-year, $119 million deal to stay in Atlanta. Johnson had averaged a modest 21.3 points 4.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 38 minutes per game the previous season, but Atlanta's early exits from the playoffs were well-documented and many doubted whether Johnson was a franchise player. But that summer he was paid like one.

He regressed his final two seasons in Atlanta, and the Hawks (again) did little in the playoffs. So when the Brooklyn Nets came calling last offseason, looking to acquire Johnson and the remaining four years and $89 million left on his contract, new Hawks general manager Danny Ferry had no choice but to pull the trigger.

It was a move that signaled the brand-new franchise in Brooklyn--which had moved from New Jersey in the offseason--was in win-now mode. Days later All-Star point guard Deron Williams agreed to a deal with the Nets over his hometown Dallas, and later that summer the Nets brought in defensive specialist Gerald Wallace and re-signed center Brook Lopez.

The Williams acquisition was the most important to the Nets' success, but the Johnson trade locked in Brooklyn's salary cap. Because it all but ended Brooklyn's attempt at trading for then-disgruntled Magic center Dwight Howard, there's a certain pressure on Johnson to perform close to the franchise player he was paid to be.

In his first postseason with the Nets results have been mixed. Johnson, along with the rest of his team, shot the lights out in a Game 1 win. He made 7-of-13 shots for 16 points in an efficient 28 minutes. Two nights later, Johnson scored 17 points but needed 18 field goal attempts (he made six) to do so in Brooklyn's Game 2 loss.

Johnson's shooting splits have been indicative of the Nets' successes and failures all year. In 43 wins Johnson has averaged 17.3 points on better than 44 percent shooting. In 29 losses, his numbers drop to 14.7 points on 39 percent shooting. In both wins and losses he hovers around 17 field goal attempts per game, so it's a matter of making shots, getting to the free-throw line and getting hot from outside for Johnson.

Jimmy Butler and, at times, Marco Belinelli have drawn the assignment of guarding Johnson the first two games and that should stick tonight in Game 3. Williams is the barometer for Brooklyn's successes--as Game 2 should prove--but in a game where points are sure to be at a premium, Johnson's shooting numbers could go a long way toward deciding a winner in this all-important tie-breaking matchup.

Stick with Comcast SportsNet all night to get the hometown call with Neil and Stacey, and get interactive with Bulls Pulse by using #BullsTalk on Twitter.