Nets make return to playoffs, host Bulls

It didn't take long for the Nets to find success following their move from the Garden State to one of the five boroughs in New York City.

The Nets are in the playoffs for the first time since 2006-07 and enjoyed a solid first season in Brooklyn.

Up next for the Nets is Saturday's Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals versus the Chicago Bulls at Barclays Center. The Nets earned the fourth seed in the conference and won seven of nine games at season's end to solidify their spot.

Chicago battled its way to the fifth seed even though it lost four of seven to wrap up the regular season.

Brooklyn's revival is the main storyline and point guard Deron Williams knows there's still plenty of work left.

"It's good for us, the first season in Brooklyn to be in the playoffs," Williams said. "That was the goal, and we accomplished that goal. But we've still got a ways to go."

The Nets went 49-33 in the regular season and the wins were the most since the 2005-06 squad recorded that many. The main figures pushing the buttons behind the scenes were owner Mikhail Prokhorov and rapper Jay-Z. The Russian billionaire teamed up with the hip hop mogul and the Nets finally have something going again for the franchise, which needed a coaching change to ignite a playoff run.

P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson after 28 games (14-14). The players bought in to Carlesimo's ideas and gave the nearby New York Knicks a scare for the Atlantic Division title. The Knicks eventually woke up and rallied toward the end of the regular season to stymie the Nets, but all is good in the 11217 zip code.

"I think we know how good we can be," Carlesimo said. "We've had the roster intact at different times. We just need everybody healthy. The playoffs are a different animal ... everything starts all over."

Carlesimo, who went 35-19 on an interim basis and hasn't won a playoff game since 1997 with Portland, was fortunate that Williams didn't take his talents elsewhere and decided to re-sign. Williams, along with Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, spearheaded a Nets team that preached defense, allowing 95.1 ppg, and ball movement. Williams was fifth in the NBA with 7.7 assists per game and was second on the team with 18.9 points. Lopez enjoyed an all-around solid campaign with a team-high 19.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.

Brooklyn has home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and will see its first postseason game since Oct. 10, 1956, when the Dodgers lost to the New York Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.

The Bulls have made it to the playoffs in five straight and eight of the last nine years. What's amazing with the Bulls is how they overcame adversity when former NBA MVP Derrick Rose failed to make a return in the regular season after going down with a torn knee ligament in last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Rose is not expected to come back any time soon and it's safe to say 2013-14 will be a better timetable for his return. Stranger things could happen with Rose, who said previously that mentally he was not ready to inject himself back into the Chicago lineup.

Without Rose, the beat went on for Chicago, which utilized defense and toughness, traits that resemble what Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau relays to his players. It worked in ending Miami's 27-game winning streak in which LeBron James took a beating and the nation captured a glimpse of what the Bulls can do when playing together.

Bulls reserve forward/center Taj Gibson, a native of Brooklyn, talked recently about the upcoming series with the Nets.

"It's kind of, like, crazy and surreal, but at the same time scary because that's a tough team," Gibson said of going home to compete in the postseason. "I'm also worried about just us being ready and focused to go in and battle with that team. But I'm looking forward to it."

Chicago is known for its toughness and what it lacks in scoring is made up on the defensive end. The Bulls averaged 93.2 ppg, which was tied with Philadelphia and Washington for last, but they were third in opponents' scoring at 92.9 ppg. Big men Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah are dominant forces in the paint and Luol Deng has a scoring tough inside and out.

Noah, though, is doubtful for Saturday due to a nagging foot ailment. He returned sparingly in the last two games of the regular season after missing four straight and 12 of 13 contests.

The Bulls won three of four matchups with the Nets in the regular season and the two teams have met once in the playoffs back in 1998, a 3-0 sweep by Chicago.