This isn't the Christmas Day matchup the league wanted it to be. No, not at all. The Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets were supposed to be slugging it out at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, battling for playoff positioning with the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers. For most NBA observers, those were the four contenders in the conference. The Bulls would once again have Derrick Rose and a chance to challenge the champs; the Nets would have a star-studded starting lineup and a bolstered bench.
But just about two months into the season, those dreams look dead. Brooklyn and Chicago enter this matinee outside the playoff picture. The Bulls have lost four of their last five games, seven of nine and 13 of 17 dating back to a couple of games before Rose's season ended with a torn right medial meniscus on Nov. 22 in Portland. The Nets' heartbreaking 121-120 overtime loss in Philadelphia last Friday seemed like a low point, but the real low point was the next day, when Brooklyn learned that Brook Lopez had broken his foot and would miss the rest of the year. The outlook is bleak for both teams.
Meet the Bulls
Tom Thibodeau's bunch has a reputation for playing hard regardless of the circumstance. Chicago dealt with injuries to almost every key rotation player last season and it hasn't been much different this time around. While their head coach is fond of saying the Bulls have "more than enough to win," the results have indicated otherwise lately. Not even two weeks removed from piling up DNP-CDs with the Toronto Raptors, point guard D.J. Augustin found himself playing 46 minutes for Chicago on Saturday. Rookie swingman Tony Snell, who himself couldn't get in some games earlier in the season, is also regularly playing 35-plus minutes for Thibodeau now.
The Bulls have eclipsed the 100-point mark just three times since Rose was knocked out of action on Nov. 22, and only two of those occurred in regulation. Their offense is struggling mightily with the injuries. Luckily, their Christmas Day opponent is having issues of its own.
Meet The Nets
Brooklyn's owner Mikhail Prokhorov made the decision to throw out a giant chunk of change to ensure the Nets would be a contender for the 2013-14 season, but they've had nearly as many roster problems as the Bulls thus far. Even after Deron Williams returned from his early season injury and Brooklyn began to surge, a season-ending foot injury to Lopez has this team in dire straits and now potentially in the trade market. Lopez has been very important on both sides of the ball, especially as Kevin Garnett struggles to find his footing in Brooklyn.
It remains to be seen how the Nets will cope with the situation, and they've certainly run dry on assets given all the spending they did over the summer. But something is going to have to happen if they hope to contend for a title.
A midday battle between two great-looking rosters appeared very appetizing prior to the start of the season, but between all the walking wounded, the non-walking wounded and the loss of a couple of All-Stars, this game has lost some luster. Let's hope a Christmas appearance sparks some energy into both locker rooms.
When: Dec. 25, 12 p.m. ET
Where: Brooklyn, NY, Barclays Center
How to watch: ESPN