The Bulls come off their second triple-overtime game of the season in Orlando Wednesday night to face a Washington Wizards team that secured a morale-boosting victory against the Miami Heat the very same night.
Much of the two days since the 128-125 extra-innings win in Florida has been spent under a cloud of criticism towards Tom Thibodeau’s minutes allocation.
Jimmy Butler, who has already missed 11 games this season with a turf toe injury he suspects will never fully heal, played a franchise record 60 minutes. A whole hour. Joakim Noah, recurring foot problems included, played 49 minutes.
Thankfully the Bulls’ next game comes soon enough to provide some new talking points to save us all from self immolation over this latest edition of Thibodeau overplaying several of his players.
Both Washington and Chicago find themselves not exactly where preseason expectations had them. The Bulls issues have been well-documented and I’ve only just recovered from my last mental breakdown so we’ll focus on Washington instead.
The Wizards stated intentions this season was a return to postseason play and trading an injured Emeka Okafor for Phoenix’s Trevor Ariza signaled the intent was real.
However since reaching a .500 record before Christmas, Washington’s performance has largely plateaud. A win over the Bulls would return them to 19-19 and just half a game behind division rivals Atlanta for the fourth seed in the East. Quite an indictment on the conference when a mere break-even record is enough to secure homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Wizards hold all the momentum in this match-up, having come out on top against the defending champion Miami Heat and ended the Bulls season-best five-game winning streak Friday night in Chicago.
The key for Chicago will be limit the play of John Wall and Bradley Beal. The backcourt duo torched the Heat as the Wizards raced out to a 43-18 first quarter lead on the back of a 20-0 run. The pair finished with 44 points combined, hitting on a variety of shots inside and out.
The Bulls will need to shore up one of the poorest three-point defenses in the NBA to prevent Washington repeating their 10-22 performance against Miami, and looking at the roster, they have the defenders capable of shutting down the wings.
Tony Snell has emerged as a great role player in the wake of the Luol Deng trade and his points in Orlando were the difference between the Bulls emerging with the win and leaving with another demoralizing loss to a team they should have beaten. Snell’s ability to hit the long ball and stretch the floor for the defense while also playing terrific defense – typical of a Thibodeau-era draft pick – has been a huge asset to the team.
Chicago Bulls (15-18, 2nd in Central, 6th in East)
C- Joakim Noah: 7th season. 11.5 points per game, 10.8 rebounds per game.
PF- Carlos Boozer: 12th season. 15.1 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game.
SF- Mike Dunleavy: 12th season. 11.0 points per game, 4.0 rebounds per game.
SG- Jimmy Butler: 3rd season. 12.5 points per game, 4.3 rebounds per game.
PG- Kirk Hinrich: 11th season. 7.9 points per game, 4.8 assists per game.
C- Marcin Gortat: 6th season. 11.4 points per game, 8.6 rebounds per game.
PF- Nene Hilario: 11th season. 13.5 points per game, 5.7 rebounds per game.
SF- Trevor Ariza: 9th season. 14.2 points per game, 6.0 assists per game.
SG- Bradley Beal: 2nd season. 17.4 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game.
PG- John Wall: 3rd season. 19.7 points per game, 8.6 assists per game.
Key Match-up: Jimmy Butler vs Bradley Beal
Beal torched the Heat early as the Wizards raced out to a 43-18 lead. Beal hasn’t quite shown the consistent improvement the Wizards hoped in his sophomore season but Wednesday night was the perfect reminder of what Washington saw in Beal as he showed off a range of scores from deep and on drives to the basket. Jimmy Butler will have to shake off the pain of his 60-minute shift in Orlando as he will likely be tasked with shutting down Beal for the majority of the night.