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posted: 12/24/2013 3:45 PM

Bulls-Nets tips off big day for NBA

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  • Carlos Boozer and the Bulls will shoot for Christmas Day victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. It's the opener of a five-game holiday gift from the NBA.

      Carlos Boozer and the Bulls will shoot for Christmas Day victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. It's the opener of a five-game holiday gift from the NBA.
    Associated Press

 
 

Playing an NBA game on Christmas Day means different things to various participants.

For Bulls players Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, the trip itself puts them home for the holidays. The Bulls will face Brooklyn at 11 a.m. on Wednesday in the first of five nationally televised games. Gibson grew up in Brooklyn, while Noah went to high school there and has family in New York.

Even coach Tom Thibodeau has family in Connecticut, so there's a slight possibility he took a quick break from watching game tape on Christmas Eve.

"We're excited about the opportunity to play on Christmas Day," Thibodeau said Tuesday at the Berto Center. "I think it's great for our team, great for the organization. We're looking forward to it."

For the Bulls players with young children at home, they'll try to make the best of the situation. Kirk Hinrich plans to open gifts with his two young daughters after the Bulls return home in the evening.

"I don't know how my wife's going to explain that one, but I think she's going to try," Hinrich said with a laugh. "Chicago's one of Santa's last stops."

The largest segment of the Bulls' roster are players without kids at home, so playing on Christmas Day comes with fewer complications.

"It's an honor. For one, I get to be around guys that I really care about, my teammates," Jimmy Butler said. "My family is going to be watching on TV. This is what I love to do. This is what I asked for since I was little.

"We just want to win. Our gift to our fans is to bring a smile to their faces."

This will be the 18th Christmas Day game in franchise history. The Bulls are well behind league-leader New York, which will be playing on Dec. 25 for the 49th time.

The Bulls' record on Christmas is 10-7. They won seven in a row during the championship era, from 1990-97. After a long break, they've gone 1-2 during the Derrick Rose era on Christmas. The Bulls beat the Lakers on lockout opening day in 2011, then were pounded 120-97 at home by Houston last year.

Before the season, the Bulls at Brooklyn seemed to be a fascinating matchup. Not only is it a rematch of last season's seven-game playoff series, the Bulls were expecting to have Rose back and the Nets retooled to create an interesting veteran lineup.

The actual results haven't been good. The Bulls lost Rose to another knee injury on Nov. 22 and have been struggling with a number of other injuries. They're expecting to have Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler back for Brooklyn, while Luol Deng is still rehabbing a sore left Achilles.

The Nets (9-18), meanwhile, are getting a terrible return on the $180 million they'll pay in salaries and luxury tax this season. Point guard Deron Williams missed 11 games early and now center Brook Lopez is expected to be out for the season with a broken foot.

Newcomers Paul Pierce (12.6 ppg) and Kevin Garnett (6.7) have seemed washed up. Pierce didn't score at all in Monday's home loss to Indiana and was ejected for a flagrant foul against Pacers guard George Hill.

Trying to hold the Nets together is first-time coach Jason Kidd, who played for the Knicks last season. He challenged his players after the loss to Indiana.

"I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing," Kidd said. "We are kind of getting comfortable with losing. We've got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in? Most of the time right now, we do."

mmcgraw@dailyherald.com

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