Nets vs. Bulls: Chicago on Sunday; Kevin Durant on Monday?

Starting with Sunday afternoon’s matinee, the Brooklyn Nets are going to see the Chicago Bulls three times in their final 23 games of the season.

The Bulls swung a blockbluster deal at the trade deadline, acquiring Nikola Vucevic from Orlando while sending out young center Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round draft picks. Vucevic recently made his second consecutive All-Star appearance and was averaging 24.5 points and 11.8 rebounds while shooting 40.6 percent from 3-point range at the time of the trade.

“They haven't played well since the trades but that's just newness,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “They have a better roster now. More talented, more balanced. You look up and down at the variety of talent they have too. They have Vuc — obviously, an All-Star center. (Zach) LaVine. All-Star on the perimeter. Thaddeus Young has been really good for them. (Laurie) Markkanen, Coby White, you go down the line, there's lots of talent there and it's going to come together there so, we're probably catching them right when they're about to explode and we better match their energy and fight tomorrow afternoon if we want to beat them.”

Guard James Harden will be out for the second consecutive game after leaving Wednesday’s game against Houston with a hamstring strain.


Kevin Durant discussed his progress on the hamstring strain that has cost him the last 21 games on Thursday, and on Saturday Steve Nash acknowledged that Durant’s return is getting close. After Sunday’s game in Chicago, the Nets play the Knicks on Monday at Barclays Center.

“I am not certain on Monday,” said Nash. “I think that's an outside possibility. But I also couldn't say, like, he's in any stretch probable for Monday. I think it's just wait and see. But it does look positive that this week sometime there's a high probability he can return.”

Durant’s return will add another body to Brooklyn’s now-crowded frontcourt, but early in the season Nash had said Durant could play any position on the court. Along with the emergence of Nic Claxton, the Nets have recently added bigs with perimeter skills and shooting range in Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“We have a lot of possible combinations from Kevin and Jeff (Green) at the five all the way through Blake, Nic, LaMarcus, you know, lots of options, almost the same options at the four. We can play extremely small at times. We can play with James (Harden) at the four. We can play big with Kevin at the three and two traditional bigs. So it gives us a lot of optionality.

“At the same time, we have to get a runway of time together to go to those edges of our possibility I think. But it’s there. It’s possible. That goes back to Sean (Marks) giving us lots of options with the roster. Now it’s a matter of how quickly can we create productivity and understanding and jell in various combinations and how effective can we be. It’s all great to have a plan, but when you get punched in the mouth, how are you going to respond? That’s the layer to this that is out there for us to strive for and to realize how many of our combinations can face adversity and overcome it.”


Landry Shamet returned with a big night on Thursday, knocking down 5-of-7 3-pointers for 17 points in the 111-80 win over Charlotte. Shamet had been out since spraining his ankle against Washington on March 21.

“For anybody on the team to have sort of a hiatus and come up and just pick up where he left off, find that rhythm is huge,” said Joe Harris. “And Landry provided a really big spark for us coming off the bench the other night. Really carried a lot more momentum that the first unit had already built.”

You could check off a couple different factors for why the Nets had shot 31.7 percent from 3-point range over their previous five games before they knocked down 20-of-45 against Charlotte — everybody hits a rough patch — but it didn’t help missing Shamet, who’s making 38.6 percent for the season and 42.6 percent since Jan. 29.

The third-year guard was a little relieved his absence didn’t last longer.

“It was actually a lot less severe than I thought it would be when it happened once I saw all the different camera angles and stuff,” said Shamet. “Actually when it did happen in the moment it was pretty painful, uncomfortable. I thought it was gonna be a good one, be out for a while. Made some good progress. Worked hard rehabbing it. I hate sitting out, that’s for sure. But definitely back sooner than I kind of expected.”


Newly acquired center LaMarcus Aldridge brings shooting range to the center position for Brooklyn, but he’s also able to create 3-point opportunities for others with his passing out of the post. Of Aldridge’s six assists against Charlotte on Thursday, five led to 3-pointers. It’s the kind of inside-out action that the Nets typically get off of drive-and-kick plays from James Harden or Kyrie Irving.

“It's similar to like you said guys kind of just getting into the paint and creating that way where LaMarcus commands so much attention when he gets the ball in the post because he's so efficient when he gets it and he's capable of making excellent passes out of the post,” said Harris. “But we want him to score first and foremost but he just kind of makes the right play. Even the other night he was feeling it out, we're trying to give him the ball in positions where he can score more but guys will send two at him, try and help off maybe a little bit off of certain guys but he just continuously made the right play.”


The Bulls are 19-28 and in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, and with the new play-in format this year, that keeps them in the playoff race. They have lost their last six, including four straight after the trade for Nikola Vucevic. Chicago is last in the league with 15.7 turnovers per game and 18.8 points off turnovers allowed. The Bulls are 26th in steals per game (6.7) and 23rd in blocks per game (4.4). They’re eighth in assists (26.3) and ninth in field goal percentage (47.8). Chicago allows the third-fewest 3-pointers per game (11.4) and is eighth in opponent 3-pointers attempted (32.5) and sixth in opponent 3-point percentage (35.1). Zach LaVine leads Chicago with 27.4 points plus 5.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He’s shooting 51.1 percent overall and 42.4 percent from 3-point range.