Bulls head to Brooklyn for Christmas


Dec 24

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Christmas morning is one for surprises, and starting at 11 a.m., the NBA is getting one.

No Derrick Rose, no Brook Lopez, Paul Pierce barely avoiding a suspension, Luol Deng likely out with an Achilles problem, Carmelo Anthony uncertain with a sprained ankle, Kevin Garnett calcifying.

“We’ll go in there and probably think of Game 7 for a minute,” said Kirk Hinrich, who is slated to return Wednesday from missing five games with a back injury when the Bulls play the Nets in Brooklyn to open the NBA’s Christmas Day jamboree. “But realize it’s a new year.”

Boozer and the Bulls will visit the Nets on Christmas Day at 11 a.m. CT on WGN-TV and ESPN.

Boozer and the Bulls will visit the Nets on Christmas Day at 11 a.m. CT on WGN-TV and ESPN.

It sure is, though that Game 7 last May when the Bulls upset the Nets in Brooklyn to win the first round playoff series was a harbinger of sorts as the Bulls were without Hinrich and Deng, and, of course, Derrick Rose, who missed the season recovering from ACL surgery. The Bulls pulled off the upset of the playoffs with a stunning 99-93 victory in a memorable series, which included a triple overtime classic.

Jimmy Butler, who played 48 minutes in that Game 7 win in Brooklyn, also is likely to play Wednesday, though Deng remains unlikely as he hasn’t practiced.

“I just think I need a new right foot, to tell you the truth,” Butler joked to reporters after practice Tuesday. “This one’s all used up. But I’m all right. Turf toe, little ankle problem. Nothing I can’t handle, I guess. It’s all right. Bothering me a little bit, but I feel like it’s going to bother me like that for the rest of my career now.”

That’s not great, but Bulls/Nets sounded pretty great to the NBA schedule makers last summer. And, frankly, to the rest of us as well.

So as the NBA considered it’s biggest day of the regular season, Christmas Day, when the NBA owns the TV with five featured games, it only made sense to schedule the Bulls against the Nets, especially with the return of Rose and the Nets adding Pierce and Garnett to a team, like the Bulls, that was regarded as a potential title contender.

But sometimes the best of plans go awry and you never saw it coming.

You’d say this was a version of coal in the stocking for the NBA, though they haven’t been bad, and, anyway, coal doesn’t burn well and maybe it’s pong in the Christmas stocking instead of PlayStation 4.

The NBA generally does an excellent job with its schedule in creating drama and the best matchups, like on opening night and especially for the special and much publicized Christmas Day games.

But it’s not happening this season as two of the teams you probably most want to see on Christmas Day—in fact, the two teams with the best records in the league, Portland and Indiana—are not even scheduled.

Well, the NBA figured Indiana would be good, if perhaps starless. But no one saw this Portland thing coming. As for Atlantic Division leader Toronto, one of three division leaders not playing Wednesday, well, the NBA got that one right.

But it’s going to be a Christmas Day when the name tags fell off all the gifts and no one basically knows what they are going to get.

— Bulls at Nets: It’s a replay of Game 7, though Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli are gone from the Bulls and Rose, as we know, is gone again. So is Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo to the surprise of Jason Kidd, who seems pretty surprised by all that is going on. The Nets made the big summer splash with the trade for Garnett and Pierce. But a slow start with Deron Williams hurt has now deteriorated with Brook Lopez out for the season with a broken foot for the third time to one up Rose’s second knee surgery. Both the Bulls and Nets currently are out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference, which is no small feat. “I think it’s an honor and privilege to play on that day,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “I think a lot of teams want to play on that day. It’s a great day to be playing. We’re thrilled that they asked us.” Perhaps not again for awhile.

— Thunder at Knicks. The Knicks have led the league thus far, at least in dysfunction. Coach Mike Woodson goes from game to game being asked about being fired and in their win over Orlando Monday, Anthony sprained his ankle and Raymond Felton went out yet again. Amar’e Stoudemire is in and out of the lineup constantly and they’re 9-18 with actually still a pretty good chance to win their division. The Thunder is rolling with a contending team and a developing bench that is making up for the trade of James Harden. Well, I guess you could say it’s two teams making a run at division titles even if the Thunder is 13 games better.

— Heat at Lakers: This is the featured ABC-TV game and was supposed to be Kobe Bryant’s return date to face the defending champions. But Bryant couldn’t wait, played six games and went out for another six weeks. All their point guards are out and Bryant was playing point guard until he went out with the Lakers now fading away in the west. Dwyane Wade sits out every third game or so lately to rest for the playoffs, though you assume he’d play in this one as Miami starts a Western Conference road trip. LeBron vs Heck, who is on that team?

— Rockets at Spurs: Oh, no. James Harden has been limited and out lately with an ankle injury. You also assume the Spurs will play Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, though you never know. It doesn’t even matter sometimes given their system of play and role players who are so good, a model for the NBA. But it is the first of a back to back for the Spurs, so who knows. You also assume the NBA has rejected Dwight Howard’s request to play in a Santa Claus suit. Though he’ll likely try something, perhaps reindeer ears in timeouts.

— Clippers at Warriors: They’re both basically healthy, though not exactly classic rivals or the rivals for the top spot with the Warriors something of a disappointment this season and now hanging onto the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. But Golden State has Andre Iguodala back, which has helped. They may provide the most entertaining game of the day if you can remain awake for it with high scoring, running and shooting play and the Clippers have been improving of late.

So if there aren’t exactly any statement sensations or measuring moments, it is a day to sit back and enjoy. After all, it’s the thought, and the NBA is bringing you LeBron, Durant, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, Deron Williams, Stephen Curry and Joakim Noah.

“Just to be able to go home, play on Christmas Day, play in front of family and friends. It’s cool,” said Noah.

It is cool. It’s a great day for basketball.

“It’s an honor,” added Butler. “Because for one, I get to be around guys that I really care about, my teammates. My family’s going to be watching on TV and this is what I love to do. This is what I asked for since I was little.”

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