Brooklyn Nets

Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest Sarah Kustok

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: Special guest Sarah Kustok

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski and Kendall Gill are joined by Nets broadcaster and Chicago native Sarah Kustok

1:30        How Sarah manages a very busy schedule working multiple roles

3:00        On the next step for the Brooklyn Nets

5:30        Sarah on being a pioneer in broadcasting and why she didn’t feel too much pressure

7:30        On the MVP race

8:45        Kendall explains his disdain for Harden not getting travel calls

11:00     Potential for the Bulls next season

13:55     Kendall, again, wants Derrick Rose back with the Bulls

15:00     On lottery night, reaction in Chicago and New York

16:20     Mark’s lottery reform and anti-tanking idea

18:00     Sarah’s summer plans

20:15     Sarah on when she returns to the United Center and Chicago

22:00     Kendall on his analyst work for DAZN boxing

23:30     Sarah on being a role-model to young female broadcasters

25:20     On Nets in free agency this summer

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Talk Podcast

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New-look Bulls face a playoff-contending Nets squad

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USA TODAY

New-look Bulls face a playoff-contending Nets squad

Even though the Bulls lost in overtime to Indiana Friday night, the 24-and-under starting lineup of Wendell Carter Jr., Lauri Markkanen, Chandler Hutchison, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn turned out to be a big success......at least on the offensive end.

LaVine scored 31 points, Markkanen 27, Dunn 16 and a career-high 17 assists, and Carter Jr. 15 points and eight rebounds. Hutchison only scored four points, but he fit in well with the starting group with his athleticism and defensive skill.

Head coach Jim Boylen decided to let his team play at a faster tempo, resulting in higher quality shots that led to 52 percent shooting from the field and 43 percent from the three-point line. Now the challenge is to continue building chemistry within the starting group, while getting more consistent production from the second unit with the expected return of Bobby Portis from a sprained ankle Sunday afternoon against Brooklyn.

The Nets continue to be one of the NBA’s most surprising teams, currently in seventh place in the East with a 19-21 record. Brooklyn head coach Kenny Atkinson has done a tremendous job of getting the most out of a modestly talented roster.

The Nets’ best player, Caris LeVert, is currently rehabbing from a frightening ankle injury, while fourth year guard D’Angelo Russell is starting to look like the player everyone expected when he was drafted second overall by the Lakers in 2015.

Russell is averaging 18.2 points and 6.4 assists running the offense for Atkinson, while the Nets are also getting contributions up and down the line from the likes of Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Bulls’ cast-off Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s in the running for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award.

Dinwiddie scored 27 points in Brooklyn’s 96-93 win at the United Center two-and-a-half weeks ago, obviously looking to send a message to the team that let him go early in the 2016-17 season. Even though Atkinson continues to bring Dinwiddie off the bench, he’s emerged as the most dangerous scorer in a share-the-wealth offense.

Allen has also been a pleasant surprise this season, emerging as one of the league’s top shot blockers while also averaging 11.6 points and 8.3 rebounds. He was a major factor in that Brooklyn win over the Bulls with 16 points and 12 boards.

The Nets’ unexpected success could make them a more attractive option to the front-loaded 2019 free agency class, especially since Brooklyn should be able to carve out enough cap room to offer two max contracts. There’s been a lot of speculation about Kevin Durant possibly being interested in coming to New York, but it’s all about the Knicks right now.

Brooklyn could offer Durant the option of bringing the star of his choosing along with him in free agency, which would immediately transform the Nets into an Eastern Conference contender.

So, keep an eye on the Nets as a darkhorse contender in the big free agent chase of 2019, but as for Sunday, it should be another close game between these two young teams. Here’s what the Bulls will have to do to snap their three-game losing streak.

1. Keep the offense rolling — With a young, athletic starting lineup, the Bulls should be ideally suited to run an up-tempo offense. Kris Dunn is quickly becoming a team leader with his toughness on both ends of the court and willingness to sacrifice his offensive game to set up the team’s top scorers. Dunn played one of his best games in a Bulls uniform against Indiana. Now, it’s about stringing those types of performances together over the final 43 games of the season.

2. Welcome back, Bobby — Portis should provide the second unit with the reliable scorer its been lacking since he went out with the ankle injury. Portis’ ability to play inside or outside should give the reserve group a go-to option late in the shot clock either in pick and roll or drive-and-kick actions.

3. Match Brooklyn's intensity — Under the direction of Atkinson, the Nets have become a team no one likes to face because of the way they battle for 48 minutes. The Bulls have been prone to long stretches of offensive futility, including a few scoreless droughts in the overtime loss to Indiana on Friday after establishing an early 15 point lead.

The Nets won’t pack it in, no matter what the score, so the Bulls have to keep their focus and execute on both ends for the entire game.

Don’t forget, it’s a Sunday matinee at the United Center. The one and only Stacey King will join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me on both the pregame and postgame shows to provide his expert analysis. Bulls Pregame Live starts at 2 p.m. on NBC Sports Chicago, with the play-by-play call to follow at 2:30 p.m. with Stacey and Neil Funk.

And, we remind you to stay tuned after the final buzzer for Boylen’s media session and player reaction on Bulls Postgame Live.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.

Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

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USA TODAY

Nets rebuilding starts to gain momentum ahead of showdown with Bulls

After years of being handcuffed by the ill-fated Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trade that cost the Nets’ franchise several prime lottery picks, Brooklyn is starting to come out of the abyss under energetic young coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Nets’ front office was able to absorb the contracts of veteran players like DeMarre Carroll, Kenneth Faried and Darrell Arthur for draft considerations, while also picking up former #2 overall pick D’Angelo Russell by taking on the massive contract of Timofey Mozgov from the Lakers. In addition, they also traded veterans Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic for 1st rounders that became starters Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen.

Under Atkinson’s direction, the Nets have bought into a culture of hard work and unselfish play. They improved from 20 to 28 wins a year ago, and are currently within striking distance of the final playoff spot in the East.

LeVert is currently sidelined after dislocating his right ankle in a scary fall in early November, but he should return at some point this season. At the time of his injury, LeVert was leading the Nets in scoring at 18.4 points per game while shooting nearly 48% from the field, looking like a candidate for a spot on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. In his absence, the Nets have gone with a share the wealth approach, with Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris, Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson all scoring in double figures.

Dinwiddie is the name that should be familiar to Bulls’ fans. He was with the team during training camp in 2016, but let go when the Bulls acquired Michael Carter-Williams in a deal with Milwaukee. Since that time, Dinwiddie has fully recovered from an ACL injury he suffered in college and emerged as a top candidate for the NBA’s 6th man award, averaging 17.2 points and 5 assists per game while shooting almost 48% from the field. Hindsight is always 20-20, but Dinwiddie would certainly look good in the Bulls’ backcourt right now.

Still, the most exciting thing for Nets’ fans right now is the team’s salary cap situation. Thanks to all the moves made by General Manager Sean Marks, Brooklyn could have the ability to offer 2 max contracts in 2019 free agency. Whether Marks will be able to get a meeting with any of the big names like Durant, Leonard, Irving, Butler and Thompson is still to be determined, but at least there’s finally some hope for a turnaround in Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, the Bulls have sunk to 7-24  and have been the league’s least efficient offensive team since Jim Boylen took over as head coach. Boylen wants his shorthanded team to play at a more deliberate tempo in direct contrast to the current pace-and-space trend that’s taken over the league. With leading scorer Zach LaVine out because of injury and Jabari Parker inactive while the front office tries to work out a trade, the Bulls are painfully short on offensive options and need to rely on an improved defense to stay competitive in games.

Like Brooklyn, the Bulls figure to have cap space this summer to pursue free agents, but they’ll need to show improvement and stability over the final 51 games to make their sales pitch effective.

As for Wednesday’s game, here’s what the Bulls need to do to have a chance for a home court win.

1.   FAST BREAK POINTS.  We know Boylen wants to put the brakes on the Bulls’ transition game, but the Nets come to town after hosting the Lakers Tuesday night which means there could be a few players on the court with tired legs. When the Bulls force a turnover, they need to look for an easy scoring opportunity before the defense sets up. Oklahoma City had a 27-9 advantage in fast break points on Monday.

2.   MARKKANEN IN THE POST.  The 7 foot forward was extremely effective in the 2nd half of the come-from-behind win in San Antonio by isolating against smaller defenders for drives and step-back jumpers. Markkanen will have a height advantage against Brooklyn’s smaller frontcourt, and he should be able to shoot over the top of Hollis-Jefferson, another former Arizona Wildcat.

3.   SHUT DOWN SPENCER.  Dinwiddie has been in celebration mode this week after signing a brand new 3 year, 34 million dollar contract extension. Still, Dinwiddie gets pretty serious in talking about the 2 NBA teams that gave up on him (Pistons and Bulls) knowing that all he needed was time to fully recover from a serious knee injury. The 25 year old guard has been providing instant offense off the bench for Brooklyn, and you can bet he’ll have the green light when he enters the game at the United Center.

We hope you’ll join Kendall Gill, Kelly Crull and me for Bulls Pregame Live at 6:30 Wednesday on NBC Sports Chicago and the My Teams by NBC Sports app. After the game goes final, flip back to NBC Sports Chicago for Jim Boylen’s media session and player reaction from the locker room on Bulls Postgame Live, followed by Bulls Outsiders.