Since January 1, the Nets have the best winning percentage (.737) in the East with their 14-5 record, while the Bulls are third-best with a .667 winning percentage (14-7 record) over that span. Chicago enters tonight as the fourth seed in the conference.
The Bulls beat the Nets by a score of 95-78 in Brooklyn back on Christmas day. Both teams have been playing great ball since then, and with just 1.5 games separating them in the conference standings, there's a lot at stake tonight at the United Center.
Even after losing star point guard Derrick Rose and trading away Luol Deng, Tom Thibodeau has got his Bulls playing tough, hard-nosed basketball to vault themselves back into the playoff hunt. Nobody embodies that spirit more than Joakim Noah.
Noah, just named to his second All-Star game, is sixth-best in the NBA with an average of 11.5 rebounds per game.
Noah's also coming off a 19-point, 16-rebound, 11-assist triple-double in Chicago's home win on Tuesday.
The 6'11 center has always given the Nets fits, averaging 14.8 points and 10.8 rebounds over his last five games against Brooklyn, including Chicago's playoff series victory against the Nets last April.
Key Matchup: The intensity of these Nets-Bulls matchups got another shot in the arm with the addition of Kevin Garnett into the mix. Garnett and Noah will go at it in the middle, and it could be as physical as any one-on-one matchup there is in the NBA.
Player to Watch: Paul Pierce had an excellent game on Wednesday, and like his former Celtic teammate Garnett, he's played much better ball since the start of 2014. Pierce is averaging a team-high 14.6 PPG on 46.8% shooting since January 1.