Bulls-Nets Preview

The Associated Press

What might have been viewed as a Christmas Day showdown between Eastern Conference contenders has become a matchup of two of the NBA's biggest disappointments.

The Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets are nowhere near where they thought they'd be at this point in the season.

The short-handed Bulls will try to win consecutive games for the first time in more than a month, while the injury-ravaged Nets hope to avoid their fourth straight defeat when the teams meet Wednesday in Brooklyn.

In addition to Derrick Rose, Chicago (10-16) is expected to be without leading scorer Luol Deng because of a sore left Achilles, while Jimmy Butler (sprained right ankle) and Kirk Hinrich (back) will likely be game-time decisions.

Without all four players, the Bulls avoided a fifth straight loss with a 100-84 victory over visiting Cleveland on Saturday. Carlos Boozer led the way with 19 points, while Tony Snell had 17 with five 3-pointers and Joakim Noah added 11 with 18 rebounds.

D.J. Augustin also provided a spark with a season-high 18 points and 10 assists as Chicago ended its longest skid in four years under coach Tom Thibodeau. Signed on Dec. 13 to help fill in for Rose, Augustin has averaged 13.8 points and 8.0 assists while hitting 11 of 24 from 3-point range in his last four games.

"As we get bodies back, D.J. gets comfortable, I said all along that I have great belief in this team," said Thibodeau, whose club has dropped 13 of 17 since Nov. 21.

Since averaging 79.5 points on 36.1 percent shooting over a six-game stretch earlier this month, the Bulls have scored 96.3 per game with a 46.2 field-goal percentage in their last three. On Saturday, they shot a season-high 53.6 percent while reaching 100 points for the first time since a 107-87 win over Miami on Dec. 5.

Chicago hasn't earned back-to-back victories since a season-best five-game run from Nov. 8-18.

The Nets (9-18) hardly resemble the same team the Bulls knocked out in Game 7 of last season's first-round playoff series. Though they were thinking big with the offseason trade that brought in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, those high expectations have dissipated over an injury-plagued first few months.

Brook Lopez, averaging a team-leading 20.7 points, became the latest to go down when he broke a bone in his right foot during Friday's 121-120 overtime loss at Philadelphia.

In their first game since Lopez was ruled out for the season, the Nets dropped their third straight with a 103-86 loss to visiting Indiana on Monday. They fell to 2-8 without their All-Star center, who had missed nine games earlier this season with ankle trouble.

The Nets shot just 38.2 percent from the field while missing 20 of 26 from beyond the arc after averaging 106.9 points on 49.4 percent shooting - including 47.2 from 3-point range - in their previous seven games.

Joe Johnson finished with 17 points, but Garnett had 12 on 3-of-10 shooting and Deron Williams added nine while missing 6 of 9 from the field. Pierce, who went 0 for 7 before getting ejected for a flagrant foul on Indiana's George Hill, failed to score for only the second time in his 15-year career. Pierce was fined $15,000 on Tuesday for the foul.

"We're kind of getting comfortable with losing and we've got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in?" Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "And most of the time right now we do."

Terry scored 11 after missing 15 games with a bruised left knee, and Kidd could be getting more help with Andrei Kirilenko (back) hoping to return against the Bulls.

Chicago has won seven of the last nine regular-season meetings.

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