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Bulls pick up the pieces after brutal loss to Nets

Some ugliness surfaced in the blowout Wednesday, but Zach LaVine & Co. feel like a lot of it is fixable. It starts with getting that chip back on their shoulder.

The Nets’ James Harden and Kevin Durant celebrate after a score during the second half of Brooklyn’s win over the Bulls Wednesday night at the United Center.
The Nets’ James Harden and Kevin Durant celebrate after a score during the second half of Brooklyn’s win over the Bulls Wednesday night at the United Center.
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The chip is back on the shoulder.

“I don’t want to say we relaxed a little bit,’’ guard Zach LaVine said, ‘‘but we can use this as fuel to get us back with that edge and start being the [team] that’s attacking rather than being attacked.’’

LaVine was trying to sound as confident as he could, considering what happened late Wednesday night.

The Bulls need something to help them find their way back.

After what had been a storybook season going into the last week, the Bulls have now been forced to eat a huge piece of humble pie. Losing in Dallas on Sunday was one thing, but the blowout loss to the Nets at the United Center was rock bottom.

The Bulls allowed a season-worst 138 points, and the Nets shot 56% from the field, including 53% from three-point range. Brooklyn even had a 43-8 run.

And all the carnage took place in front of a national TV audience.

“Getting your butt kicked on national television is not a fun thing after playing a pretty solid first half,’’ LaVine said. “It brings you back down to earth. You just want to see why you lost the way you did. Good teams come out in the third quarter and put teams to sleep. We’ve done that to teams before; we had it done to us [by the Nets].’’

But there are two life preservers the Bulls can float on: They won the season series against the Nets in case the Eastern Conference crown comes down to a tiebreaking scenario, and they were missing their “dawgs’’ on defense.

Already without Alex Caruso (health and safety protocols) and Javonte Green (groin), the Bulls lost Derrick Jones Jr. in the first quarter with a knee injury. Jones is expected to miss at least a month with a bone bruise.

“It just sucks that DJ went down,’’ forward DeMar DeRozan said. “We haven’t had Alex in a while. Javonte is out. [That’s] the heart and soul of our team. We kind of lean on them to bring that super edge, especially defensively, we haven’t had and kind of feed off. Once we get those guys back, I’m pretty sure we’ll be right back where we left off.’’

Maybe, but it’s not that simple. Caruso and Green will help, but the attention to detail on defense has slipped in the last month. It was covered up by a nine-game winning streak, but that shooting level was unsustainable.

Coach Billy Donovan had been warning his players about the slipping defense privately and publicly, and he should have their ear after the romp by the Nets.

“The best way for teams to learn is going through experiences,’’ Donovan said. “We have to earn our way to play in the postseason. I love the responsibility that comes with where we are now [in the standings]. We have to understand what we’re going to be getting from other teams. Some of the things I’ve been talking about the last eight, 10, 12 games, you can see when you get into certain situations, you are not going to be able to get away with that.

“My whole focus is we have to get better.’’

And if the playoffs work out the right way, they’ll also have to focus on how to beat Brooklyn’s three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving.

“It’s something we’re going to have to face if we want to go where we need to,’’ LaVine said.

“We’ve got the split on them right now. We won’t get to play them again [until the playoffs], so we’ll see what’s up.’’