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DeMar DeRozan, shorthanded Chicago Bulls hand Brooklyn Nets ‘bad, tough loss’

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NEW YORK — With DeMar DeRozan drawing James Harden and Kevin Durant with him on a drive into the paint, Lonzo Ball was all alone on the right wing as he launched a 3, crouched in anticipation and then turned toward courtside fans behind him after drilling a late dagger against the Brooklyn Nets.

Down four rotation players due to health and injuries, the Chicago Bulls continued their surprising start to the season by erasing an 11-point third-quarter deficit to give the Nets a stinging 111-107 loss at Barclays Center on Saturday night.

The Bulls (16-8) have won three straight games and leave New York having beaten the Knicks at Madison Square Garden and the Nets at Barclays Center on this road trip. This is also the second time this season that the Bulls outplayed the preseason favorite to win the Eastern Conference in the fourth quarter to hand the Nets a bitter loss, clinching the season series between the two teams.

“You want to be the best, you got to beat the best,” said DeRozan, who picked the Nets apart with 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter. “Everybody talks about being best but you got to go out there. No matter if you are shorthanded, you want to be the best, you got to go out there and compete against the best.”

The Bulls entered the game shorthanded with Javonte Green and Coby White in health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19. With Patrick Williams (left wrist) already out, the Bulls started Alex Caruso at power forward but he was later ruled out due to a hamstring injury that was bothering him entering the game. Bulls coach Billy Donovan said it was a medical decision to pull Caruso and that he did not know how long Caruso might be sidelined.

The Nets (16-7) looked at this game as a big test for them. They were shorthanded themselves with Joe Harris (ankle) and James Johnson (shoulder) out to go along with Kyrie Irving, who is not with the team. But they were looking to settle a score after losing, 118-95, in Chicago on Nov. 8 and get a quality win over one of the top teams in the conference.

Brooklyn led 71-60 with 6:34 left in the third and appeared to be in control. But that cushion was gone by the 9:28 mark in the fourth. Durant scored nine of his 28 points in the fourth quarter but Harden struggled with his shot, missing 5-of-6 shots in the fourth. The Nets defense allowed Chicago to shoot 52.2% in the fourth quarter. Chicago also enjoyed a 27-to-9 advantage in free-throw attempts for the game.

“We just gotta go out there and play with some force and confidence, like we want to win,” Durant said. “And understand it’s a long game, and just stick with the game plan. It’s a bad, it’s a tough loss. … We didn’t take advantage of being up nine-10 points. We just let them stay in the game and we were supposed to just bury them.”

Harden, who recently admitted he is having difficulty finding balance between being more of a playmaker versus when to be a scorer with Irving not playing, shot just 5-of-21 overall before finishing with 14 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds.

“Blame this one on me,” said Harden. “I had a lot of opportunities at the rim that I didn’t convert that could have settled this game down.”

Durant said he should’ve helped Harden more by making more shots.

“That would’ve took pressure off of him,” Durant said.

At the end, the Nets watched another struggling shooter make the game’s biggest shot. After Durant cut the deficit to 107-105 with a 3-pointer, DeRozan drove and drew Harden and Durant with him in the paint. DeRozan found Ball alone on the right wing and the point guard delivered the dagger 3, just his second of the game. Ball finished 3-for-10 overall and just 2-for-7 from behind the arc.

Ball — who had eight points, nine rebounds, seven assists and three blocks against the Nets — also missed 8-of-10 3-point shots in Thursday’s win over the Knicks. But the Bulls continue to develop chemistry and trust in one another as they moved to within half a game of the Nets for the lead in the East.

“It says a lot about our team,” DeRozan said of the wins against the Knicks and Nets. “How resilient. How we approach challenges. We don’t shy away from them. We accept them.

“… It is difficult to win in this league, especially coming into two hostile environments on the road, playing against two teams and the best team in our conference, to withstand the blow that we took from them throughout the whole game, to buckle down in the fourth quarter and pull out a victory.”

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Brooklyn Nets star James Harden misses game vs. Denver Nuggets because of left hamstring tightness

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NEW YORK — Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden did not play against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night because of what the team said was left hamstring tightness.

Harden, who is averaging 37 minutes a game this season, was a late scratch a night after racking up a triple-double in Tuesday’s 106-96 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Prior to the game, Nets coach Steve Nash acknowledged how tough it is to manage Harden’s minutes as the team continues to play without stars Kevin Durant (sprained MCL) and Kyrie Irving. Irving is not vaccinated against COVID-19 and cannot play in home games because of a New York City vaccination mandate.

“It is a challenge,” Nash said. “We would like to protect him more. But he’s a competitor and wants to be out there so we try to have our little tug of war and I think that’s why at times we’d like to ask him to miss games so that he can regenerate and be a little bit safer as far as being ready to go when the playoffs begin.”

Harden expressed frustration after Tuesday’s loss, saying in part that he believes the Nets should have a better record than the 29-18 record they came into Wednesday’s game with.

“Of course I’m frustrated because we’re not healthy,” Harden said after Tuesday’s game. “There’s a lot of inconsistency for whatever reason. Injuries, COVID, whatever you want to call it. But yeah, it’s frustrating. I think everybody in this organization is frustrated because we are better than what our record is and we should be on the way up.”

Nash believes that despite Harden’s frustration, he remains “happy” as a Net.

“I think James is happy to be here,” Nash said. “I just think it’s frustrating right now because we haven’t played great basketball, we’ve had a lot of injuries, we’ve had a lot of illness. A lot of guys in and out of the lineup. A lot of chop and change so that can be frustrating for sure to not have that kind of consistency to build on. And we haven’t had our best performances.

“We’ve had a few — but ever since the COVID return it’s been, lets say, average basketball overall. So we have higher expectations and it’s frustrating, but I think James is happy here for sure.”

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Brooklyn Nets to shun trade-deadline offers for James Harden

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The Brooklyn Nets won’t listen to trade-deadline overtures for All-NBA guard James Harden, a resolve rooted in Harden’s repeated insistences to ownership and management that he’s committed to staying and winning a championship with the franchise, sources told ESPN.

Nets owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks are buoyed not only by Harden’s consistent internal stance, but the shared public and private belief among superstars Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving that the three make the Nets an unstoppable team when playing together.

Once Durant returns to the lineup in February from a sprained MCL injury, the expectation is that the Nets will get an ample window to prove that again this season. Irving is still limited by a New York City mandate that prohibits unvaccinated players from performing at home.

The Philadelphia 76ers‘ plans for a potential pursuit of Harden this summer have been no secret anywhere in the league, but the Sixers have yet to make the Nets a trade offer ahead of the Feb. 10 deadline, sources said. The Nets don’t plan to engage any team — including the Sixers — that might try to pry Harden ahead of his possible free agency this summer, sources said.

Harden, 32, didn’t sign an extension in the preseason, pushing a decision to the summer of 2022. To stay with the Nets on a long-term deal, Harden could opt-in on his $47.4 million contract for 2022-23 and sign a four-year, $223 million extension at the start of free agency. Harden would earn $61.7 million in the last year of the deal, becoming the first player to surpass $60 million in a single season.

Harden can opt out of the 2022-2023 season to become a free agent and sign elsewhere, or the Nets could agree to a sign-and-trade deal where Harden opts into the final year of his contract with plans to sign a long-term deal with his new team in 2023. ESPN’s front office insider Bobby Marks projects only Detroit, Orlando and San Antonio to have cap space this offseason.

The Nets acquired Harden in a four-team trade in January 2021, a move that Harden and Durant pushed hard for the Nets to make. Harden is averaging 23 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds for the Nets this season. He was the NBA’s MVP in 2018 and is a nine-team All-Star and six-time first-team All-NBA player.

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Sacramento Kings’ Terence Davis out indefinitely due to wrist injury

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ATLANTA — Sacramento Kings guard Terence Davis will be out indefinitely after injuring his right wrist in Tuesday night’s loss to the Boston Celtics.

Kings interim coach Alvin Gentry said before Wednesday night’s game at the Atlanta Hawks that the team’s medical staff was “in the process of exploring all kind of treatment” for Davis.

Davis took a hard fall in the 128-75 loss at Boston. The wrist injury was announced after the game. The Kings said tests on Wednesday revealed damage to tendons in the wrist.

Davis has emerged as a prominent scorer and starter for the struggling Kings. The second-year player is averaging 10.4 points per game. He scored a career-high 35 points on Jan. 19 against Detroit and 22 points the following game against Milwaukee.

“I thought he was playing really good basketball for us,” Gentry said. “He was attacking the basket. … It’s an opportunity for somebody else to step in. Obviously, there are going to be minutes there.”

Kings center Chimezie Metu also will miss Wednesday night’s game with a knee injury.

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