The Brooklyn Nets began their longest trip of the season by showcasing effective defense in two wins.
On Monday, the Nets will face their toughest opponent of the six-game trip when they oppose the Chicago Bulls and their trio of Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball.
“They got three elite-level scorers from all areas and one at the big-man position,” Brooklyn star Kevin Durant said of the Bulls. “And then you got a point guard in Lonzo who can orchestrate it all. We got our work cut out for us — another test for us.”
Brooklyn, which has won five games in a row, enters Monday’s matchup allowing an average of 98 points during its streak. The Nets kept the streak going with a 116-103 win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.
Against Toronto, the Nets allowed only 43 points in the second half and outscored the Raptors 35-17 in the third quarter. That followed Friday’s 96-90 win in Detroit when Brooklyn allowed 37.9 percent shooting from the field and outscored the Pistons 39-23 in the third quarter.
During the streak, each Nets’ win has featured a dominant third quarter. Brooklyn is outscoring opponents by 63 points in the period in the past five games.
“Our group has to be that way this year,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We’re not going to just outscore people.”
That’s partially true for a team with Durant and James Harden, whose performances on offense also are a main component of the winning streak.
Durant scored 31 points Sunday and is averaging 27.4 in the past five games. Harden scored 16 of his 28 in the fourth quarter and is averaging 20.8 points during the streak.
Chicago represents the best remaining team on the trip that will see the Nets visit the Orlando Magic, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Bulls started the season 6-1 but are coming off consecutive single-digit losses against the Philadelphia 76ers and are seeking quicker starts to games.
Since their impressive comeback last Monday in a 128-114 win over the host Boston Celtics, the Bulls have been held to 98 and 105 points. On Wednesday, Chicago trailed by 10 after the opening quarter, and in Saturday’s 114-105 loss, the Bulls shot a season-worst 40.2 percent in a game they trailed by double digits at halftime.
“We are trying to figure out how to get off to a better start,” LaVine said. We come back every game, but it’s not like we want to live like that.”
LaVine scored 32 points Saturday and has at least 30 in three games this season and at least 25 in seven games. DeRozan is averaging 26.8 points, his highest since he averaged 27.3 in 2016-17, and he scored 25 points Saturday for his fourth straight game with at least 25.
Chicago still hopes to see more consistency from Ball and Nikola Vucevic. Ball is averaging 11.9 points and was held to eight points Saturday, while Vucevic is averaging 13.4 points after being held to 11 points on 5-of-16 shooting from the field Saturday.
“I think he’s really trying to figure out how to play with a lot of different guys,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said.
–Field Level Media