Well kids, that’s why you shouldn’t believe in momentum. As noted in the game preview, Washington was just 2-5 since New Year’s, with their wins coming over two teams in a heap of trouble at the moment, while Chicago was the only team still unbeaten in 2014. Those things were irrelevant in tonight’s 102-88 loss to the Wizards. What was relevant? The inspired play of Washington, especially John Wall and Nene, who each pitched in a team-high 19 points among a cadre of big plays.
From the jump, Washington pushed the pace and attacked the Bulls in transition. Obviously a big part of that comes from having the first or second fastest player in the league -Ty Lawson would probably be Wall’s only competition at the moment with meniscus injuries putting Russell Westbrook and Eric Bledsoe on the shelf – but their whole team was simply very active tonight. Six of their eight players posted double figures, they led start to finish, and every time the Bulls made a run and looked poised to steal a game they’d been outplayed in, the Wizards impressively shut the door.
The first half was not just entertaining in comparison to the typical slog of a 2013-2014 Bulls game, it was entertaining period. The Bulls did not live up to their status as the league’s second best defensive team, so that end was not as suffocating as usual, and turnovers by both teams allowed for free flowing action. While it was practically a given having surrendered 56 first half points on 59% shooting, Chicago tightened things up a bit in the second half. They got within four, but these Bulls don’t have the firepower to go on the mini runs that the Wizards can, and that ultimately cost them.
While the team is not better as a whole without Luol Deng, their offense can look a little more easy on the eyes since he was dealt to Cleveland. Why is that? Caleb Nordgren offers his theory:
Deng's absence forces Thibs to play two above-average shooters at all times, essentially.
— Caleb Nordgren (@chisportsguy41) January 14, 2014
So I did a little research and compared Mike Dunleavy’s court time in 22 games where Luol Deng played with the now 13 games where he was either injured or no longer on the roster. I found Dunleavy got 24.5 minutes per game when Deng played and is averaging a smidge over 34 MPG without him. (Note: I excluded the triple OT loss to New Orleans in which both played, as both the extra time and lack of substitutions typically seen in overtime periods do not represent a typical game. Dunleavy played 48 minutes in that contest.)
The other player who figures to get more run without Lu is rookie Tony Snell. Thankfully, after it appeared Cartier Martin only needed one game to usurp Snell’s role, the rookie responded with a huge game tonight. He had himself a 7-0 run in the first half, and scored 12 points on 5-9 shooting in less than 16 minutes of court time, a number that should have been much higher. He hit open shots, hustled on defense to really screw up a few Washington possessions, and continued to make excellent passes and decisions with the ball in pick and rolls. Down 12 with less than four minutes to play, Thibs fell back on his crutch of using two point guards to close the game in what was clearly the wrong lineup. Chicago needed to hit threes to have a chance, and yet both Dunleavy and Snell sat until Thibs changed it up with less than two minutes to go, but two minutes and multiple midrange bricks from Kirk Hinrich and DJ Augustin later, all hope was gone.
The Bulls continue their soft January schedule in Orlando on Wednesday, with a rematch against the Wizards on Friday in D.C.