Since their Christmas Day matchup in Brooklyn, the Bulls and Nets have seen their individual fortunes changes dramatically.
Luol Deng, who didn’t play in the contest, a 95-78 Bulls win, due to injury, no longer wears a Bulls uniform and the Nets were a laughingstock, as first-year head coach Jason Kidd was finding his bearings on the sidelines and the team was still reeling from the loss of center Brook Lopez for the rest of the season because a broken foot. Since then, the Bulls have risen up the Eastern Conference standings, getting above .500 and currently sitting in fourth place before the All-Star break, while the Nets have also been on a roll, using a small-ball approach to propel them into playoff position.
“They’ve found their rhythm. They’ve gotten guys back. [Andrei] Kirilenko has made a big difference for them. They’re much stronger on both sides of the ball. But again, when you look at the versatility of their lineup and Joe Johnson has been a great player, [Paul] Pierce a great player, [Kevin] Garnett a great player, Kirilenko a great player, Deron Williams just keeps coming and [Shaun] Livingston has found his health. He’s playing very, very well and that was, I think, a big key for their team,” Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau said after the team’s morning shootaround at the United Center, where his team will host the Nets Thursday evening. “They’ve been playing good basketball. They can spread you out. They’re very deep. They have a lot of shooting. Their bigs are very active. When you have multiple pick-and-roll players — you look at a Deron Williams and Livingston — that puts enormous pressure on you and then Pierce has the ability at the four to go off the dribble and make plays. Joe Johnson is an All-Star. Garnett, [Andray] Blatche up front, [Mason] Plumlee. That’s a lot of depth.”
Bulls’ All-Star center Joakim Noah added: They’ve played a lot better since Christmas Day. I think they’re more comfortable in what they’re trying to do, as well. But we’re better, as well. We’re better, too. So it’ll be a good game tonight. Two teams competing hard, trying to get a win before the All-Star break."
Teammate Jimmy Butler concurred: “I feel like they are [better since Christmas]. They play a lot smaller. They put up a lot more threes. They just play a lot faster as a whole. I think Thibs said they’re 15-7 in their last 22 games. They’re a good team.”