(670 The Score) After a loss to the Mavericks on Sunday and a recent stretch of play that left coach Billy Donovan wanting more from his team even as it compiled a nine-game winning streak, the Bulls found their groove with a 133-87 win against the lowly Pistons on Tuesday evening at the United Center.
Then their attention quickly turned to Wednesday night, when the first-place Bulls (27-11) will welcome in their closest competition in the East, the second-place Nets (25-14). It will mark the third matchup between the teams this season after the Bulls routed the Nets on Nov. 8 in Chicago and won a close game on Dec. 4 in Brooklyn. Whether it will also be the first time the teams square off at near full strength remains to be seen.
That’s because star point guard Kyrie Irving is back for the Nets as a part-time player, allowed to play in road games but banned from suiting up in home games due to New York’s vaccine mandate. Irving (ankle) and Nets star guard James Harden (knee) were listed as questionable to play Wednesday, while the Bulls guard Alex Caruso remained in COVID-19 protocols as of Tuesday night but was nearing a return.
Whatever the case, the Bulls know they’ll have their hands full against the Nets.
“To be the best in this league, you’ve got to compete against the best,” said DeMar DeRozan, who had 20 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists Tuesday. “Tomorrow is going to be one of those fun games. I’m pretty sure they’re going to come in here with some type of revenge, especially having Kyrie (Irving) back. We beat them twice. It’s going to be a challenge. It’s one of those games you look forward to. We start there, and then we worry about the next opponent after that.”
The Bulls are fourth in the NBA in offensive efficiency and ninth in defensive efficiency, while the Nets rank 11th and 12th, respectively. Of course, Brooklyn’s ceiling has been raised with Irving’s return, a point not lost on Chicago.
“Complete, dynamic, three-headed monster team that they are,” DeRozan said of what Irving brings the Nets. “Having those guys, having Kyrie – one of the most dominant point guards in this league – coming back, it’s good for the game first of all. I’m pretty sure it’s great for Brooklyn. We love seeing full strength (opponents). Hopefully tomorrow we’ve got an opportunity.”
Amid their rise to first in the East, the Bulls have also garnered more national attention. They’ll be in the spotlight against the Nets, with the game being television nationally on ESPN with a late tip-off time of 9 p.m. CT.
“You just got to take that approach – you out there and compete, put yourself in position to want to be seen, to be respected and want to be watched,” DeRozan said of the increased attention. “I just felt that’s where we’re at.”
Cody Westerlund is a sports editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.