Wizards land last blow in physical contest
It's the part of the season where playoffs teams take their foot off the gas and players on lottery-bound teams run up their individual numbers with reckless abandon.
But that wasn't the case at Verizon Center, where the Wizards got into a backyard scrap with the Chicago Bulls and emerged with their eighth straight victory at home, 90-86. With eight games to play, the Wizards (28-46) are 81Ú2 games out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, but own a tiebreaker with Milwaukee, which has nine games remaining.
So you're saying there's a chance?
"As funny as you might think it is, we're not eliminated yet," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. "Stranger things have happened. Has anybody hit the lotto in here? Let's go buy some tickets."
It's easy to have that kind of belief after the Wizards held the Bulls (40-33) to 31.8-percent shooting and 37 points in the second half. In a clash of two of the NBA's stingiest defenses, the lock-down effort was a perfect complement to John Wall's 27 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three blocks.
"I think we're better defensively than the Bulls," Wizards forward Martell Webster said. "They're just a lot more physical than we are. We play a team-oriented game, and they got some bruisers over there. That's the way they play. I think we play a better team defensive game."
The Wizards were also healthier with Nene back in the starting lineup after missing the previous four games with a sore right knee. Along with Derrick Rose's continued absence, the Bulls were also without Joakim Noah and lost Taj Gibson during the game to a knee injury.
But Carlos Boozer (19 points, 12 rebounds) and Luol Deng (13 points, eight rebounds) both started hot. The Bulls hit seven of their first nine field goal attempts before the Wizards woke up and clamped down, forcing the visitors to miss seven of their next eight.
After a wild sequence in which Trevor Ariza (10 points) dove on the floor for a loose ball and slid out of bounds as he whipped a pass to Bradley Beal, Nate Robinson (17 points) broke free with the rebound on the break only for Wall to chase down and smother what looked like an easy lay-up for Deng.
Washington trailed by as many as 10 points, but Wall made his first three shots and led all scorers at halftime with 14, enough to keep the Bulls' lead to 49-42.
Robinson's 3-pointer gave the Bulls a 62-54 advantage midway through the third quarter before the Wizards answered with a 14-2 run.
Beal was slowed by his right ankle in his second contest back after missing 11 of the previous 14 games. Kirk Hinrich slammed hard into the rookie with a foul that seemed to encompass all of the former Wizards' guard's frustrations of his half season in Washington in 2010-11, and Beal eventually had to take a seat with eight points on 3-for-11 shooting early in the fourth quarter.
"I was definitely favoring it in the second half," Beal said.
A.J. Price (13 points) filled the void, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and harassing Robinson on defense. Hinrich's frustrations bubbled over with 3:19 remaining after he didn't get a whistle and Nazr Mohammed's putback attempt was ruled in the cylinder, as he vented his way into a two technical fouls and an ejection.
"This was, I thought, a really positive step again for us in learning and moving the direction we want to go," Wittman said. "We didn't particularly play our 'A' game, yet we gutted out a win."