Chicago’s late-game execution, so good two nights ago in Orlando, was nowhere to be seen as the Washington Wizards used a 6-0 run in the final four minutes to key a 96-93 home win that sends the Wizards back to .500 (19-19) for the first time in 2014.
The Bulls had lead the Wizards by as many as eight in the third quarter on the heels of a 14-2 run before Washington regrouped after a timeout and rattled off an 8-0 run of their own to tie the score at 70.
Down the stretch, both teams traded buckets as Kirk Hinrich became the surprising source of some critical points. Both the Wizards and Bulls took turns to lead by one until, with the Bulls ahead 91-90, Washington scored six straight as Chicago went 0-4 from the field and missed five of their final six shots.
After forcing a loose-ball foul with 10 seconds left on the game clock, the Bulls came out of a timeout and tried to run a play first for a Mike Dunleavy three-pointer to tie on a curl, similar to his game-tying three Wednesday. Jimmy Butler ended up with the ball and the Wizards switched the longer Nene onto him.
With the clock ticking to zeroes, Butler couldn’t shake his defender and saw his off-balance three blocked by Nene to seal the victory.
The loss moves the Bulls away from .500 again to 18-20 while the Wizards hit .500 again for the first time since December 30th. They move just a half-game behind the Altanta Hawks for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
For the first time in many games, the Bulls offense performed better than it’s defense. The Wizards shot over 50 percent from the field and a sizzling 54.1 percent from behind the arc against one of the league’s poorest three-point defenses. Wall and Beal routinely penetrated the Bulls defense, forcing collapses before kicking out to wide-open shooters.
Kirk Hinrich led all scorers for Chicago with 18, while John Wall scored a game-high 23 points including one circus shot while falling and spinning to the floor after a foul. Bradley Beal and Martell Webster added 14 apiece for Washington while D.J. Augustin chipped in 16 points.
While the loss will prove demoralizing for the Bulls, the offense was largely run smoothly and generated plenty of great looks at and around the basket. Tony Snell continued his game-by-game improvement, this time finishing with a career high five assists to go with his now-expected strong shooting and defensive play.
It also wouldn’t be a Bulls game without more injury concerns. Jimmy Butler fell awkwardly on his tailbone within the first minute of the game but appeared to shake off the pain. Kirk Hinrich returned to the locker-room with trainer Jeff Tanaka on a couple of occassions but also returned and Tony Snell came up limping after a dive into the front row after an errant Noah pass.
The Bulls now head home to host the struggling Philadelphia 76ers before the equally-awful Los Angeles Lakers head to Chicago. The most anticipated forthcoming game, however will be the trip to Cleveland and an emotional first reunion with Luol Deng’s Cavaliers.