- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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This is what helplessness feels like: The Nets entered Monday night’s game against the 20-6 Bulls, one of the best teams in the NBA, without MarShon Brooks, Brook Lopez and Anthony Morrow.
This is what being pummeled feels like: The Bulls start off Monday night’s game by making nine straight shots and jump out to a 20-6 lead. They extended that lead to 35-14 after shooting 76.5 percent in the first quarter.
This is what being embarrassed on your homecourt feels like: With 2:06 left, the partisan-Bulls crowd at United Center East rises to its feet and roars when fan favorite Brian Scalabrine checks into the game. Thirty-eight seconds later, “Veal” drains a 20-footer to make it 105-83. All of a sudden, it sounds like the Bulls have just won the championship. “MVP!” chants follow when he heads to the free throw stripe in the waning seconds.
So to summarize, the Nets went in helpless, were pummeled -- especially in the opening stanza -- and got embarrassed by the Bulls, 108-87.
“It’s just deflating getting down 30 points and not putting up a fight,” said Deron Williams, who scored a game-high 25 points and added five assists in 37 minutes.
“Their team’s got a lot of fire power,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Teams like that have a mindset to come out and throw the knockout punch in the first quarter and set the tone.”
Based on the stats and the score, mission accomplished. At least the Nets stayed even with the Bulls for the final three quarters. If only that mattered.
Williams keeps saying this is “a different year.” True, but for the most part, all the games are the same.
Injuries force the Nets to open with a different starting lineup -- on Monday night, they opened with their 13th different starting lineup in their first 26 games. Then they find themselves down by six or seven points after the first quarter -- on Monday night, it was 21. Soon after, they find themselves down by 15-to-20 points -- on Monday night it was 32. They fight back a bit (on Monday night, they cut it to 17) and make the final score somewhat respectable once-in-a-while (not on Monday night, though), but come up short. And Johnson talks postgame about the whole journey toward becoming a playoff team being called “a process.”
“It becomes an even more difficult process that we’re facing because we’re so injured,” Johnson said. “That’s just a fact. But again, I like the challenge.”
Same story. Different day. Add in a Dwight Howard trade rumor or two, if you want. Only this time, the Nets were wearing cool looking blue ABA throwback jerseys and 75 percent of the crowd at Prudential Center was cheering for the Bulls.
“I’m not used to this,” Williams said. “It didn’t happen in Utah. We’re not giving much to cheer for, so you gotta cheer for somebody.
“It was the same last year when we played the Bulls. They were chanting MVP for Rose. Same thing when we played Boston last year. It happens when we play the Knicks, and I’m sure it’ll happen when we play LA here. Anybody I miss?”
Without Lopez, the Nets are a jump-shooting team. They have no post player, so they live and die by the 3 -- on Monday night, they shot 3-for-17 from downtown. Williams gets double-teamed. Other players have to step up. They don’t. It’s hard to blame the Nets. When your team is decimated by injuries, what can you do? Plus, they’re lacking in talent. At the same time, is it going to get better when the team moves to Brooklyn in 2012-13? Nets fans can only hope.
Johnson said the Nets are going to watch film and study all of their mistakes on Tuesday.
So how long is it going to take?
“We gotta be there at 11, so we might get out at about 4,” joked Keith Bogans, the same player who was forced into the starting lineup even though he’s played just three games this season after missing about a third of it.
The Nets are just going to have to make do with what they have.
“It’s our job. It’s what we’re paid to do. We can’t control injuries, but we can play basketball, and that’s what we’re here to do,” Williams said.