The Brooklyn Nets are coming off their first home loss under P.J. Carlesimo, and now they must host the Eastern Conference's best road team.
The Chicago Bulls, however, may be rather short-handed.
While the Nets and their top scorer have cooled off a bit, the Bulls have gotten hot behind a pair of role players heading into their first game in Brooklyn on Friday night.
Since Carlesimo took over for the fired Avery Johnson on Dec. 27, the Nets and Bulls share the East's best record at 13-5. However, while Chicago (28-17) has won eight of 10, Brooklyn (27-19) has lost three of four as Joe Johnson has averaged 13.3 points and shot 36.7 percent from the field.
Johnson averaged 19.7 points in the first 11 games of January, making 30 of 69 from 3-point range, as the Nets went 10-1. He scored 16 on Wednesday but went 4 of 15 from the floor with four turnovers in a 105-85 loss to conference-leading Miami, which outscored Brooklyn by 20 in the second half.
"We just got flustered and couldn't really get anything going, and because we couldn't get anything going, I think our defense suffered because of that," said Deron Williams, who had six turnovers while battling the flu and was limited to nine points.
The Nets missed a chance to tie the franchise record of 12 wins in any month, and they had an eight-game home winning streak snapped.
Chicago is a conference-best 13-6 in road games, including 6-1 in January. The Bulls opened a six-game trip with a 104-88 win in Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Though All-Stars Joakim Noah and Luol Deng get much of the credit for Chicago's success with Derrick Rose still sidelined, reserves Jimmy Butler and Nate Robinson have keyed the recent surge.
Butler has returned to coming off the bench for the past two games, totaling 37 points on 15-of-22 shooting, after making five starts when Deng was injured. Since getting that first career start two weeks ago, Butler is averaging 15.4 points and 7.9 rebounds with only five turnovers in seven games.
"He's a big lift," coach Tom Thibodeau said of Butler, considered one of the team's top defenders. "He can guard, he can score and play multiple positions and make hustle plays. He's doing a lot for us. He's a big part of this team."
It appears Robinson is, too, though his minutes could soon decrease with Rose nearing a return. Robinson has scored in double figures in a season-high eight straight games and has averaged 20.0 points over the last four, shooting 56.9 percent from the field.
"I'm going back to being the old Nate," Robinson told the Bulls' official website. "Having fun and bringing energy and playing as hard as I can and not worrying about making mistakes and looking over my shoulder, playing as hard as I can and for as long as I can no matter if it's 30 minutes or 30 seconds."
Robinson may need to play extra minutes Friday as Kirk Hinrich won't be available due to a right elbow injury that's bothered him for a month. Carlos Boozer is questionable with a hamstring injury and Noah may not play due to a recurring foot issue.
The absence of those big men would put the onus on Taj Gibson, who could get a second straight start. Gibson had 14 points and nine rebounds Wednesday.
The Bulls have held seven straight opponents below 90 points and have limited the Nets to an average of 87.7 in the past six meetings, winning five.
Chicago won 83-82 on Dec. 15 in the lone matchup this season as Williams missed a 3-pointer as time expired. He's averaged 26.0 points in the last three meetings.
The Associated Press News Service
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