NBA Game of the Week: Nets seek 13th consecutive win as they take on the Bulls

By Sports Desk January 03, 2023

The Brooklyn Nets will look to extend their winning streak to 13 games when they travel to take on the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday.

Brooklyn's current 12-game run is the best streak in the NBA this season, and they are showing no signs of slowing down, with their past two victories against the San Antonio Spurs (139-103) and the Charlotte Hornets (123-106) coming by a combined 53 points.

Over that 12-game span, the Nets have gapped the field as the best offensive team in the league. In fact, their 124.2 points per 100 possessions is 6.0 points better than the second-placed Portland Trail Blazers (118.2).

That gap is greater than the distance between the Trail Blazers and the 24th-ranked Minnesota Timberwolves (112.9).

Their offensive firepower has been ignited by some unbelievable, and perhaps unsustainable efficiency by their All-NBA duo.

Over the past 12 games, Kevin Durant is shooting 59.2 per cent from the field – well above his career-best field goal percentage of 53.7 from his 2016-17 and 2020-21 campaigns. It is the same story for Kyrie Irving, who has led the team with 29.3 points at 54.3 per cent shooting, which would both comfortably set new career-highs.

The all-time record for team three-point percentage in a season belongs to the 1996-97 Charlotte Hornets at 42.7 per cent, while during this stretch the Nets have shot the three-ball at an unprecedented 44.2 per cent.

Unless that pair – who are both in their 30s – as well as the Nets as a whole are truly about to shatter their own personal and franchise records, they will, at some point, have to come back down to earth.

However, there is no indication the Bulls will be the team equipped to stand in their way.

During the Nets' winning streak, the Bulls have had the third-worst defense in the NBA, conceding 119.2 points per 100 possessions.

A big part of that has been their inability to rebound and finish off their defensive possessions. They are allowing 16.8 second-chance points per game – the second-most – while at the same time being the league's worst offensive rebounding team, grabbing only 21.9 per cent of their own misses.

The Bulls have also been the absolute worst team in the league at restricting three-pointers, allowing an average of 15.7 made threes per game at an efficient 38.6 per cent.

But while the three-pointer has been the Nets' best friend and the Bulls' worst enemy, it is also the most volatile method of scoring, and teams will generally regress to the mean over the course of an 82-game season.

It means the Nets will not keep shooting this well, and the Bulls will not continue to get lit up from long range at this rate – and while it is impossible to predict when things will begin to swing in the opposite direction, both teams are due for a change of fortune.

 

PIVOTAL PERFORMERS

Brooklyn Nets – Kyrie Irving 

While Durant is the Nets' undisputed best player, Irving is the X-factor, and his strong games generally coincide with wins.

Irving is shooting 52.6 per cent from the field and 43.7 per cent from deep in the 18 wins he has been a part of, while those figures plummet to 44.9 per cent from the field and 24.7 per cent on three-pointers in his nine losses.

Chicago Bulls – Zach Lavine

It is a similar story for the Bulls, who have DeMar DeRozan as their consistent centrepiece, but rely on Zach Lavine to bring the additional firepower to a team lacking in three-point threats.

For the season, the Bulls are hitting just 10.6 three-pointers per game – the fourth-worst figure in the league – but in the 15 wins Lavine has played in he has hit 3.5 threes per game at a red-hot 46.1 per cent clip. It is a stark difference to his 2.2 made threes at 30.6 per cent in his 18 losses.

KEY BATTLE – Who can control the paint?

It seems clear that whoever catches fire from long range will likely emerge victorious, but with so much volatility attached to high-volume three-point shooting, it may come down to whichever team gets the easiest baskets.

A diet of lay-ups, dunks and free throws will always be the most sustainable form of offense, and the Nets are a team that lack much true size beyond starting center Nic Claxton.

If Bulls center Nikola Vucevic can impose his will on Claxton early and perhaps get him into foul trouble, it could open up the paint and force Ben Simmons to play extended minutes as the Nets' primary rim protector, which is not where he shines defensively.

HEAD-TO-HEAD

The Bulls have won three of their past four meetings with the Nets, including the most recent fixture on November 1, coming away 108-99 victors after holding Irving to just four points.

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