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Nets rout Bulls to reach .500

Paul Pierce of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after

Paul Pierce of the Brooklyn Nets reacts after hitting a three point shot against the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center on Monday, Mar. 3, 2014 in Brooklyn, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Mediocrity never felt so good to these Nets.

They reached the .500 mark Monday night for the first time in nearly four months with a 96-80 victory over the Bulls at Barclays Center.

Although an even record after 58 games pales in comparison with their original goal -- a championship -- it's impressive, given the hole they dug themselves.

Jason Kidd's Nets are 19-8 since Jan. 1 after starting 10-21. The Elias Sports Bureau said they are only the fifth NBA team in 30 years to go from more than 10 games below .500 to an even record in fewer than 30 games.

"We can't rest right there, that's the key,'' Paul Pierce said. "We hit a benchmark we've been fighting for all season. Now it's time to pass that.''

Just as impressive as getting back to .500 is the way they did it Monday night.

The Bulls entered as one of the NBA's hotter teams, having won four straight and nine of 10, and had blown out the Knicks in Chicago a day earlier.

But the Nets, playing at home for the first time since Feb. 12, came out with a burst of energy that the Bulls couldn't match, and they led the entire game.

Deron Williams scored 14 of his 20 points in the second half, Joe Johnson had 19 points and Pierce and Shaun Livingston added 14 each.

"We played with a fire that we don't always play with,'' Pierce said.

Before the game, Kidd downplayed the importance of reaching .500, saying the Nets aren't paying attention to their record, just focusing on getting better.

That strategy has been working well. The Nets were cohesive on offense, tenacious on defense and, to a man, active all game, looking nothing like the team that couldn't get out of its own way for much of the first two months of the season.

The Nets, playing without Kevin Garnett for the second consecutive game because of back spasms, didn't miss his presence on defense. They matched an NBA season high with 19 steals and helped force 28 turnovers. On Sunday, the Bulls committed a franchise-low three turnovers against the Knicks.

"We got our hands on a lot of balls that turned into turnovers, and that's something we've been getting better at since the New Year,'' Kidd said. "Tonight was one of those nights. What did we have? Twenty-eight? That's a lot of turnovers for us to create.''

Johnson added, "We kind of dictated how we wanted the game to be played and we sustained that for 48 minutes.''

The Bulls (33-27) presented an interesting litmus test for the Nets because of how easily Chicago handled them in their previous two matchups, including a 92-76 rout in Chicago Feb. 13.

But on this night the Nets looked like the better team, making the Bulls react to everything they did.

"Things can change quickly in this league,'' Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.

The Nets know it. Pierce said that if someone had told him before the season that he would feel good about reaching .500 in March, he never would have believed it. "But sometimes with chemistry, those things take longer than you expect,'' he said.

And with the playoffs only six weeks away, the Nets think they're jelling at just the right time.

Said Pierce, "I told the guys if we play like that the rest of the season, we're a tough team to beat.''

New York Sports