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Brook Lopez returns to starting role and leads Nets over Bulls

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez battles with Chicago

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez battles with Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose and center Joakim Noah during the first half of an NBA game on Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2014, in Chicago. Photo Credit: AP / Andrew Nelles

CHICAGO - It should have been a recipe for disaster.

The Nets were playing the second game of a back-to-back. They were facing the Chicago Bulls, the hottest team in the league. And they were going with Brook Lopez in the starting lineup, so that 38-year-old Kevin Garnett could rest.

Instead, what Lopez and the Nets cooked up at United Center Tuesday night may give them the kind of confidence they need to push their season in the right direction. Lopez, who hadn't started a game since Dec. 5, scored a season-high 29 points as the Nets dominated the Bulls, 96-82.

The win ended the Bulls' seven-game winning streak. It also marked the second time this season the Nets have beaten a team with a winning record. They had been 1-13 against winning teams with the other victory over San Antonio in Brooklyn.

"To come into a hostile environment like this against a team like the Bulls and come up with a victory, it says a lot," said Joe Johnson, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds.

The Nets led by as many as 23 points, and the score was never close after early in the second quarter. Guards Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose had terrible nights, combining for 12 points and 5-for-27 shooting. Mike Dunleavy led the Bulls with 23 points; no one else had more than 12. The Bulls finished the game shooting 38.4 percent (33-for-86).

"They missed a bunch of shots and we made enough," Nets coach Lionel Hollins said. "Tonight, versus a quality opponent, we got a win. I'm happy to get the win and close out the year."

The Nets (15-16) have won five of their last six games, all with Jarrett Jack starting at point guard. Regular starter Deron Williams, who has been coming back from a calf injury, was 1-for-8 in 20 minutes of play off the bench. He had six points, six rebounds and four assists and did a decent job on defense, especially in the second quarter when the Nets took control of the game.

Entering the game, the Bulls hadn't lost since Dec. 15 at Atlanta. And they hadn't lost at home since their double-overtime loss to Dallas on Dec. 2. Everything seems to be coming together for the Bulls, perhaps because they finally have found some offense to complement their hard-nosed defense.

The Bulls headed into the game averaging 103.1 points. That's up significantly from the 93.7 they averaged last season and it's more than any other Bulls team has averaged in 19 years, including the last two that Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen played on. The addition of Pau Gasol and the emergence of Butler have been largely responsible.

Johnson, who has had some issues with Butler dating to when the two teams played in the playoffs two seasons ago, seemed determined not to let him have another big game. Johnson took it to Butler again and again in the second quarter when the Nets outscored the Bulls 31-14. Johnson scored 14 points and shot 5-for-7 in the second.

That set the tone for the rest of the game. The Nets now hope the game can help set a new tone for the rest of the season.

Said Lopez: "Beating the Bulls shows what we can do."

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