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Back as starter, Lopez leads Nets past Bulls

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CHICAGO — Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez received a pleasant surprise when he arrived to the United Center on Tuesday night.

For the first time since Dec. 5, his name was in the starting lineup.

“I didn’t know I was going to start tonight,” said Lopez, whose playing time was limited since he returned from a back injury one week earlier. “I was just trying to come out and play aggressive.”

The strategy worked. Lopez scored 29 points in nearly 33 minutes, and the Nets rolled to a 96-82 win over the Chicago Bulls.

Forward Joe Johnson added 20 points and 11 rebounds for the Nets, who earned their fifth win in six games. Guards Jarrett Jack and Alan Anderson notched 11 points apiece for Brooklyn (15-16).

The loss snapped a seven-game winning streak for the Bulls, who had not dropped a game on their home court since Dec. 6.

“It doesn’t take much to throw you off,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “The important thing is, we have to play with more of an edge. Overall, I think we are making good progress, but things were not going our way tonight.”

Forward Mike Dunleavy scored 23 points to lead the Chicago (22-10). Center Joakim Noah tallied 12 points and 12 rebounds for his ninth double-double of the season.

Brooklyn shot 43.4 percent (36 of 83) from the field, while Chicago shot 38.4 percent (33 of 86). Bulls guard Derrick Rose struggled through his worst performance of the season, scoring four points on 2-for-15 shooting.

Rose said he was confident that he could break out of his recent shooting slump. In the past two games, he shot a combined 20 percent (7-for-35).

“There’s only one way to get out — to keep shooting,” Rose said. “My teammates have a lot of confidence in me when I shoot the ball. That’s why I kept shooting tonight.”

The Nets led 84-69 after three quarters. Brooklyn increased the margin to as many as 23 points in the fourth quarter, which prompted thousands of fans to head for the exits with several minutes remaining.

The Nets seized a 55-45 halftime lead after a dominant second quarter that featured separate runs of 9-0 and 12-0. Johnson led the attack with 14 second-quarter points, including a 3-pointer from the wing that snapped a 35-35 tie.

Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins praised his team’s effort on both ends of the court. The Nets improved to 13-7 in games in which their opponent scored fewer than 100 points.

“I’m trying to establish us as a team that plays together, plays hard, plays aggressive and cares about not who scores, but the fact that the Brooklyn Nets score,” Hollins said.

Chicago’s frustrations boiled over during Brooklyn’s nine-point run to start the second quarter. Bulls guard Aaron Brooks received a double technical and was ejected from the game after arguing with officials with 9:42 remaining in the first half.

Brooks said he was not sure what prompted his first technical foul. He said he lost his temper at that point and said a few “choice words” to the officials.

“There were a few calls out there that I disagreed with,” Brooks said.

A hot shooting start by Dunleavy helped Chicago to build a 31-24 lead at the end of the first quarter. Dunleavy scored 12 points in the game’s first 10 minutes, including a 3-pointer from the left corner that punctuated a 14-4 run for the Bulls.

The Nets completed their third sweep of back-to-back games this season, matching their total from the entire 2013-14 campaign. Brooklyn defeated an opponent with a winning record for just the second time all season.

“We’ve been capable of putting together an effort like this throughout the year,” Lopez said. “We just haven’t really sustained it the entire game. We did tonight. We can be a lot better than this.”

NOTES: Nets F/C Mason Plumlee and C Brook Lopez started alongside each other for the first time this season. Lopez came off the bench for Brooklyn’s previous four games since returning from a strained lower back. … Bulls G Kirk Hinrich missed his fifth consecutive game because of a strained left hamstring. “It’s day-to-day,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. … Nets F Kevin Garnett (rest) did not play in the second game of a back-to-back set. … Bulls F Doug McDermott missed his 15th game because of a right knee injury. … Nets coach Lionel Hollins said he was impressed by the emergence of Bulls G Jimmy Butler in his fourth NBA season. “He’s always been talented physically, but his skill level has gone up. He’s more confident now.”

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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