Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson

Things were supposed to be a little bit different when the schedule was planned, putting together the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets to open the Christmas schedule. Instead of a hot blooded repeat of last year’s first round 7-game playoff series, we have two teams with a combined record of 19-34.

The biggest star of the evening should have been Derrick Rose, but he’s out for the season. The best player the Nets have, Brook Lopez, is suffering from the same fate. The Brooklyn Nets seem to be a team on the verge of thinking about tanking, but not quite sure if it’s time. The Chicago Bulls aren’t that far off, but there seems to be a bit more belief that once all of the injured players get back (except for Rose, of course), things might start looking a bit better.

Things have been looking better for the Bulls since D.J. Augustin was signed, becoming the team’s starting point guard. They’re still without Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich, but the offense looks less embarrassing than before. Their last three games? Scoring 96.3 per game with a 46.2% from the field. Not great, but a huge improvement compared to an awful six game stretch this month: 79.5 points and 36.1% from the field. In their most recent win, a 100-84 victory over the Cavs, shooting a season high 53.6% from the field and reaching 100 points for the first time since December 5.

The Nets are an even bigger mess. Kevin Garnett, looking older than ever, is now their starting center, while Deron Williams’ return from injury hasn’t really helped the team find themselves on a winning track. Paul Pierce is doing badly when coming off the bench, and as Jason Kidd mentioned in a recent interview, it seems that despite the experience factor this team was building on, they’ve gotten quite accustomed to losing. Pierce didn’t score any points and was ejected, costing him $15,000 after the loss to the Pacers.

Predictions – Both teams look bad on offense, but there’s a real sense of desperation, almost giving up, coming from the Nets. The Bulls on the other hand still believe in making the playoffs and making something out of this season, which should be enough for them to win.

It’ll be the first time the two teams meet since game 7 of last year’s first round. The Bulls have won seven of the last nine regular season meetings.