NBA Basketball

Nets-Bulls Preview

Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson likes to use his reserve players liberally and in the last three games, the second unit is producing significant numbers.

On Sunday afternoon, the Nets visit the Chicago Bulls and Atkinson is hoping to get continued production from his reserves.

Brooklyn (19-21) heads into the halfway point hovering near .500 because of its performance in the last month. Since an eight-game losing streak from Nov. 21-Dec. 5, the Nets are 11-3 in their last 14 games.

During their hot streak, the Nets are averaging 50.7 points per game from reserves and 115.2 points per game. Brooklyn has received at least 50 points from reserves in seven of those games and in three straight, including 78 on Dec. 29 in Milwaukee, when its bench players helped turn a 27-point deficit into a single-digit gap in a 14-point loss.

The Nets are getting production from their bench while three starters are injured. Caris LeVert remains out with a foot injury, Allen Crabbe has missed the last 11 games with a knee injury and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is likely to miss a third straight game with a groin injury.

"Obviously our depth definitely helps us, one through 15," Nets reserve guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. "During this most recent stretch, we've been decimated by injuries but found a way to still be cohesive and play well together."

On Friday, the Nets used 51 points from their second unit and made enough plays down the stretch in a 109-100 win at Memphis. DeMarre Carroll hit five 3-pointers and scored 20 points while starting point guard D'Angelo Russell posted 23 points and 10 assists for his second straight 20-10 game.

Dinwiddie was held to 13 but has a number of notable games in Brooklyn's hot streak. He scored 25 at New York on Dec. 8, 39 in Philadelphia Dec. 12, 27 in the last meeting with Chicago on Dec. 19 and 37 in a double-overtime win over Charlotte on Dec. 26.

"It's not guys that are there, 'Oh, I wonder if he can produce.' In the past, it was that," Atkinson said. "These guys are tried-and-true NBA players, so we can replace an NBA player with a good NBA player."

Chicago is 5-10 since Jim Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg last month. One of its losses under Boylen was a 96-93 decision in Chicago to Brooklyn on Dec. 19.

Kris Dunn scored 24 points in the last meeting with the Nets and totaled 16 points and 17 assists in Friday's 119-116 overtime loss to Indiana.

Dunn was part of a night when Chicago's young core produced big nights.

Zach LaVine scored 31 points and had a game-tying 3-pointer waved off in overtime because it was too late. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and his 3-pointer forced the extra period.

Lauri Markkanen finished with 27 while rookie Wendell Carter Jr. contributed 15.

"There have been multiple games where we kind of had it going, but this is one of those games where we all three played at a high level," Dunn said. "It's just tough we couldn't come out with the win."

Chicago reached 100 points for the fourth time under Boylen and its 28 3-point attempts were its most since Dec. 15 in San Antonio.

"All of us are confident taking shots like that. That's a good thing," LaVine said. "I love those moments. I think I can make every shot I take."

LaVine is averaging 22.4 points in his last five games since returning from a sprained ankle while Markkanen is averaging 17.6 points since making his season debut on Dec. 1.

The Bulls may also be getting a boost to their lineup if Bobby Portis can return from a sprained right ankle. Portis was injured in the second half against the Nets last month and if he practices without incident Saturday, the Bulls are expected to activate him.

Brooklyn has won the last four meetings in this series.

Updated January 5, 2019

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