(Reuters) - The New Jersey Nets snapped an eight-game losing streak with a surprisingly easy 97-85 road win over the Central Division-leading Chicago Bulls at the United Center on Saturday.
New Jersey (9-23), taking advantage of the absence of NBA MVP Derrick Rose who missed his fifth straight game due to back pain, opened up a 22-3 lead five minutes into the game and never trailed as they handed the Bulls (25-8) just their second loss at home this season.
Deron Williams led the Nets' attack with 29 points including five three-pointers from nine attempts. Kris Humphries added 24 points and had a game-high 18 rebounds.
Despite the early offensive surge, Williams applauded the team's defensive effort as the Nets had relinquished double-digit leads in their two previous games.
"This was definitely the best defensive game of the season for us," Williams told reporters. "We got going early, built a lead and didn't let it evaporate."
Chicago's five starters struggled, combining for just 45 points, led by Carlos Boozer with 16, while Joakim Noah was held without a point in 21 minutes on the court. Reserve Mike James matched Boozer with 16 points for the Bulls.
"Sometimes, games are won in the first quarter," James said. "Even though the Nets' record is what it is, this is the NBA, and if a team starts hitting their shots, it is hard to get them out of their rhythm."
The Bulls bench cut into the lead in the second quarter to narrow the deficit to as few as seven points before New Jersey pushed it back to a 14-point cushion at halftime leading 59-45.
"You can deal with a hard-fought game where you play well and they hit a tough shot at the end," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
"To dig a hole like we did is disappointing. And that's more my responsibility to make sure we're ready. You get what you deserve in this league."
(Reporting by Mike Mouat in Windsor, Ontario; Editing by Larry Fine)