The Washington Wizards had a big opportunity before them on New Years Eve. After turning in a great performance against the Houston Rockets on Friday night, they hosted the Chicago Bulls. On the surface, Chicago may not seem like a test for a team like the Wizards, but the Bulls have been one of the hottest teams in the league since the return of Nikola Mirotic, with a record of 10-5 in the month of December. A sub .500 team seemed like the perfect opponent for the Wizards, their track record this season has shown that they typically drop these types of matchups. As John Wall stated after the game, the Bulls are known for having one of the best second units in the league. It looked like it was headed that direction early, but Washington showed great resolve and turned things around. It took an inspired defensive effort, led by John Wall to turn things in Washington’s favor. Bradley Beal getting incredibly hot late in the game didn’t hurt either, but it started on the defensive end. Wall blocked four shots against Chicago and altered several others, he finished the game with 21 points and 9 assists. With the score 97-96 in Chicago’s favor, Bradley Beal went on a rampage. He scored the Wizards next 15 points, finishing the game with 39 points. Beal missed out on a triple-double by one rebound and one assist. Washington worked hard to get back into the game and earned the 114-110 victory.
The Bulls were led by Alexandria native Kris Dunn, he had 19 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds against the Wizards. He’s been thriving of late and has been one of the many reasons Chicago’s gotten going lately. Mirotic had 21 points to lead their second unit, the Bulls bench had 46 points. Washington’s second unit didn’t match them completely, but their 32 points definitely helped Washington.
Washington stared the fourth period with a couple of stops, but bad decisions offensively resulted in those possessions being empty. The Bulls led 93-87, before the Wizards called a time with 10:06 left in the game.
Tomas Satoransky hit a big corner triple to cut the deficit to just one, Chicago lead 93-92 with 8:36 left. A steal by Otto Porter would result in a baseline jumper from Scott. Beal made a good pass out of the double team, it gave the Wizards the lead. Dunn would barely miss a highlight dunk, he got fouled by Beal, his free throws gave Chicago a one point lead.
The Wizards would regain the lead a few minutes later when Porter would push the ball of a miss and three passes later, Beal drilled a three pointer. Mirotic responded on the opposite end to tie things at 99. Nwaba would give the Bulls a lead after getting fouled by Porter, but Brad responded quickly with a drive and layup. John Wall would again strike on the defensive end, like a safety lurking in zone coverage, he baited the Bulls into throwing a pass that he was sitting on. He pushed the ball in transition and was taken down by Nwaba, the play was reviewed and ruled a common foul.
Bulls would regain the lead on a straight on three by Markkanen. Wall would miss a three, Gortat tipped it out and Beal drilled it for his 34th point of the night. Washington then got a stop, but nothing would come of it. Dunn missed a three pointer on a good closeout by Scott, but Mirotic got good position on Porter and drew the foul, his free throws gave the Bulls a 2 point lead. A possession later, Brad came off a good screen and buried a three.
Wall was called for a foul as he attempted his fifth block of the game, Nwaba went to the line and hit both free throws, giving the Bulls a one point lead. Beal came off another screen, similar to last possession, but the Bulls closed out a bit better. Dunn would get Scott(17 points) on a switch, then told his teammates to clear out so he could go to work. He gave Mike a series of moves before raising up for a step back jumper, it was nothing but net. Washington found themselves down three with 54 seconds left.
After a timeout, Washington got a really easy bucket by Bradley Beal. Good defense led to a highly contested shot by Holiday, the Wall got the rebound and ran by the Bulls in transition, attacking paid off as he hit a layup despite strong contact. His additional free throw gave Washington a two point lead. The Bulls ensuing possession ended in a miss by Dunn, good defense played by Porter.
Beal was fouled after securing the rebound, but he went on to miss both free throws. A mad scramble took place and Kelly Oubre (12 points) somehow won the battle over three Bulls players to tip the ball back to Wall. John went to the line and hit them both to give Washington a four point lead. The Wizards played great defense on the final possession, Otto refused to fall for any of Mirotic fakes.
The visiting Bulls got off to a very good start against the Wizards, led by youngsters Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn with 8 first quarter points. The Bulls played with great pace and literally attacked the Wizards every chance they got, getting into the paint and creating chaos. Those drives to the rim either resulted in a basket or a foul being drawn. The Bulls shot 53.6% for the period despite going 2-of-10 from the three point line. The biggest key was they turned the ball over just once. Meanwhile, Washington couldn’t find a rhythm offensively, credit to the Bulls suffocating defense at times, shooting just 39% from the floor. Wall and Beal led them with 7 and 8 points respectively. One of the biggest highlights of the period was when Dunn split a trap on the wing before throwing down a vicious dunk.
One of the biggest issues for Washington was that most of their bigs, outside of Mike Scott weren’t mobile enough to run with Chicago’s. The Bulls have Robin Lopez, Markkanenen, Mirotic, and Bobby Portis. All of which can move, and their skill sets in terms of where they can score from all vary.
The Bulls had an 8 point lead heading into the second quarter and extended that lead early on. Everything changed with about four minutes left in the period courtesy of Wall. The Wizards point guard stared to dominate the game on the defensive end and led the rally, Washington would make a run to close the gap, John was everywhere n he defensive end, racking up two blocks and a few deflections in that span. Robin Lopez would stop the bleeding temporarily for the Bulls. He only scored five points in the period, but they were timely.
Washington came out in the third with a bit more energy, but they couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities given to them for the first four minutes. The one thing that was clear, it was time for Beal to be more assertive and he did that, scoring 8 in the quarter. Lopez once again provided a steadying hand for the Bulls, getting post touches and making the most of them. He scored 9 of his 16 points in the period. Wall continued his dominant defense, helping the Wizards cut their deficit to one with a pair of free throws. As crazy as it sounds, Lopez was the lone Bulls player that was keeping the Wizards a bay with timely baskets. Dunn hit a big three from near the top of the circle to push the lead to six.
Beal would hit a corner three a couple of possessions later to cut the deficit to six, Wall blocked another shot before drilling a triple from the top of the circle to cut the deficit to three. The Bulls would close the quarter strongly to maintain control, Mirotic had been quiet, but he hit a big three got give his team some distance. The Bulls would hold an 89-83 lead heading into the fourth.
Washington gets a couple of days off before opening 2018 with games against the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks.