Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen (31) shoots while Chicago Bulls...

Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen (31) shoots while Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez (42) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019, in Chicago. Credit: AP/Nuccio DiNuzzo

CHICAGO — The transformed Nets are beginning to look like legitimate playoff contenders in the Eastern Conference. They won the kind of game they were supposed to win against the struggling Bulls, and they did it in impressive fashion with a dominant fourth-quarter performance in a 117-100 victory Sunday afternoon at United Center.

The win, which was powered by a 29-18 fourth quarter, was the third straight and 12th in the past 15 games for the Nets, who evened their road record at 10-10. They reached the halfway point of the season with a 20-21 overall record that has them in seventh place in the conference.

During the eight-game losing streak that dropped the Nets to 8-18, such a run of success was unimaginable. Asked what he would have said a month ago if he had been told the Nets could reach .500 with a win Monday night in Boston, Jared Dudley said, “I would’ve said that we finally figured it out. We don’t watch nearly as much film as we did during that eight-game streak because now guys hold each other accountable.

“It’s not even the coaches calling people out; it’s the players calling other players out on the floor when it’s a missed assignment. So I’d say that guys finally looked themselves in the mirror, bought in, and it all started clicking at the right time.”

That was evident in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the game, the Nets let a 12-point second-quarter lead dwindle to a halftime tie. In the third quarter, they pushed the lead to 12 again, only to see it cut in half.

But the Nets lately have shown increased confidence when it comes to closing games, and it was on display when they opened the fourth quarter with a 16-5 run to gain a 104-87 lead with 6:26 to play. D’Angelo Russell and Shabazz Napier each scored five points in that span. Their lead never dropped below 14 points the rest of the way.

“I think we’ve reached — not the apex — but we’re getting close to reaching the principles and the ideal of the type of basketball we want to play,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We’ve been at it a long time, myself almost three seasons. I sat back in my seat today because it was running by itself and they knew what to do and they were talking. That’s the ideal scenario for a coach.”

Russell topped the Nets with 28 points and five assists. DeMarre Carroll continued his hot streak with 20 points, Jarrett Allen was a force in the paint with 19 and Napier added 18. The Nets’ bench outscored the Bulls’ reserves 52-28.

Zach LaVine had 27 points, Bobby Portis 17 and Kris Dunn 16 for the Bulls (10-30).

Beating the Bulls, who lost their fourth straight, may not seem like a big deal, but putting them away in the fashion the Nets did is a sign of progress. It came on the heels of a similar finish at crunch time Friday in Memphis.

“We’ve been playing at a good level,” Russell said. “Just keep building on it, taking care of what we’re supposed to take care of and give ourselves a chance when the numbers are in our favor. Our confidence is high. I don’t think anybody can tell us anything else.”

Asked how it feels to be seventh in the conference, Russell smiled and said he doesn’t look at the standings. “I know we’ve got Boston tomorrow,” he said. “That’s all I really know. It’s good to hear. It’s good to be talked about, but we’ve got a lot of games left.”

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