Nets vs. Bulls: Luol Deng and Matchup's Biggest Difference Makers
Heading into the game, the Nets and Bulls are neck-and-neck in the race for home-court advantage in the East, as both teams are within one game of Atlanta, who sits in fourth place with a 33-24 record.
Lately, both teams have been inconsistent at best, as neither is above .500 in their last 10 games—this game is a big one, as it could turn out to be a preview of a potential first-round matchup.
Obviously, both teams will need their stars to be at their best, and there's a lot to like in terms of star power in this clash between two teams that will be playing postseason basketball this spring.
Without Derrick Rose, the Bulls have managed to stay relevant thanks, in large part, to the play of Luol Deng on the offensive side of the ball.
With 16.5 points and almost seven boards per game, Deng has been the offensive catalyst the Bulls have missed since Rose went down with the knee injury last spring.
He's not Rose, but he is an All-Star small forward, and he'll always be a difficult player to match up against.
His points and assists per game numbers are down below his career average, and Deron Williams failed to get selected for the 2013 All-Star Game, but that doesn't mean that he's not worth paying attention to.
He's an elite point guard, and when he goes off, he's impossible to stop. Until Joe Johnson's back to full speed, Williams will need to shoulder more of the load offensively—there's no question that he's capable of doing so.
As the Nets' most dominant big man, Brook Lopez is a coach's nightmare in terms of matching up because he's such a unique blend of size, skill and athleticism.
While Williams has struggled to score at his regular clip, Lopez has been putting up points more consistently, and he is the team's leading scorer going into the Nets' away clash with the Bulls.
He could be more of a presence defensively, but unless Johnson and Williams start scoring like they're paid to, Brooklyn needs him up front.
Along with Deng, Joakim Noah has kept the Bulls' train moving despite the loss of the undisputed franchise player, and he is without a doubt one of the most dominant defenders in the league.
Though he's not going to beat you by shooting the ball, his tenacity and rebounding creates time and space for his more offensively-oriented teammates, which is why the Bulls will be playoff-bound in May.
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