The Washington Wizards are in the midst of an implosion that began weeks ago, but the 97-92 victory a depleted Bulls unit toughed out at the United Center Tuesday night will go a long way in restoring some confidence to a team rocked by injuries in the past seven days.
Without Derrick Rose (knee), Jimmy Butler (shoulder) and Taj Gibson (ankle) against the Wizards the Bulls should have been in for a battle. The battle they did get was a physical, slow-paced, intense and oftentimes angry game of basketball that saw multiple players in foul trouble and Nene ejected after picking up his 6th foul, though he should have been out much earlier for a blatant hatchet job on a Joakim Noah shot attempt.
Nikola Mirotic led all scorers with 23 points, another stellar effort coming on just 13 shot attempts as he showcased his growing arsenal of moves – he scored in transition, in the post, on cuts and from behind the three-point line – while being active on defense and first to a loose ball that should have sealed the victory.
Speaking of Noah, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year has been on the upswing since early January and had one of his best all-round performances of the season with 14 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 blocks and 2 steals. His overall presence defensively forced the Wizards to miss a ton of shots and he reverted back to the offensive pivot he was last season when Rose was on the shelf.
Rose’s current replacement, Aaron Brooks (22 points, 8-23 FGS), proved yet again the Bulls front office and Tom Thibodeau can compliment each other well as he provided some huge offensive spark, utterly detonating the Wizards flimsy pick and roll defense play after play, at times enjoying 10 feet of space in the half-court coming off a screen. He did throw up some badly judged shots late in the fourth while the game was still close but it’s forgivable given his overall input.
The Bulls led most of the way in this one, fluctuating from double-digit leads to allowing the Wizards to make runs and close the gap. Each time though, Chicago would call timeout, regroup and tighten up the defense. This marked one of the better defensive efforts all year, though the Wizards play into the Bulls wheelhouse with their reliance on the mid-range game.
A quick word on Nene — the Brazilian forward struggled all night after getting into early foul trouble, was enraged by being outplayed by Joakim Noah and decided to make it known. He unleashed a vicious right-handed chop on a Noah layup attempt that barely avoided earning him an outright ejection. A few minutes later he executed a hip-toss on Noah to earn his sixth foul and ensure his night would end scoreless, 0-4 from the field in 21 minutes.
Aside from that, the game was a typical grind-em-out Bulls game where the offense actually looked decent. Funny how that always seems to happen when Kirk Hinrich plays limited minutes?
The Bulls improve to 38-23, a half-game behind Toronto for the second seed and a half-game ahead of the Cavaliers in fourth.
—- Other notes —-
— Doug McDermott played. Call off the search party. That said, he looked overawed by the situation, made some sloppy mistakes and looked overmatched athletically which should be the Bulls biggest concern. Hopefully a full off-season and no more injuries will let the Bulls take stock of what they have in McBuckets.
— This was the first time Nene had fouled out scoreless in 787 career games (including the playoffs)
— The Wizards are now 34-27 after starting 31-15, losing 12 of their last 15 games.