Wizards storm lethargic Bulls for wire to wire win


Wizards storm lethargic Bulls for wire to wire win

All-Star John Wall pumped his fists, pounded his chest and yelled at the United Center crowd all throughout the fourth quarter, as his Washington Wizards completed a total dominating performance against the rival Chicago Bulls.

Despite being shorthanded, the Wizards took full advantage of their circumstances with shooting guard Bradley Beal out and center Marcin Gortat a late scratch with a knee injury.

Or more glaringly, they took advantage of a Bulls defense that had been showing noticeable signs of slippage in the past several games, slippage that had been overshadowed by an improving offensive awareness.

A Wall-to-Wall showing from the Wizards culminated in a 114-100 win Monday night, as the Bulls must’ve been eager for their fans to get home for the college football national title game, because the sellout crowd made its way out of the building nearly halfway through the fourth quarter.

They played from behind from the start, and couldn’t sustain a recovery. They pulled to 89-85 with 9:34 left, but three minutes later a bevy of turnovers and missed opportunities led to a 13-point spread.

“They continued on (defensive issues). Again, we didn’t come out the gate with the energy we needed to. It’s beyond me how that can happen,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s consecutive games, we go on a nice win streak. We hit a little adversity, put our heads down and lose our fight.”

Hoiberg and the rest of the Bulls were in agreement: the communication broke down, leading to an opponent scoring over 100 for the fourth time in five games.

“The guys on the bench talked more than the guys on the floor, for whatever reason,” Hoiberg said. “That’s huge focus going into every game and two games in a row we hadn’t done the job.”

Wall scored 17 with 10 assists and five rebounds, one of seven Wizards who scored in double figures. All 10 Wizards who played scored and all could claim a tangible piece of the dead carcass that was the Bulls, in what should’ve been an energetic start to a four-game in five-night stretch.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Instead, even with Joakim Noah returning from a nine-game shoulder-injury absence, he went scoreless in his seven shots during 19 minutes of run—which seemed to go right along with the rest of his team.

If not for Derrick Rose’s 23 points, the game would’ve gotten ugly quicker than it did, as the Wizards had a 15-point lead midway through the second quarter and after weathering a couple meager runs in the third and start of the fourth, pulled away quite easily to put it away with six minutes remaining.

Garrett Temple scored 14 and did an admirable job guarding Jimmy Butler, who struggled to score 19 points with seven assists. Butler committed a couple early turnovers while the Bulls fell behind in the first and was unable to catch a rhythm.

With the disadvantages presented by the Wizards, not even a 40-point night may not have done the trick, as the Bulls shot 42 percent and committed 16 turnovers, while giving up 60 first-half points for the fourth time in five games.

“You can see it, teams are doing whatever they want to do on the floor,” Butler said. “We’re not doing what we’re supposed to do coverage-wise. We’re not talking like we’re supposed to be talking. You can tell. We’re not the tougher, more physical team.”

It was a bad matchup for anybody in the frontcourt, as the Wizards set the Bulls up by spreading them out and then picking them apart, piece-by-piece. Nikola Mirotic and Taj Gibson were chasing around the likes of swingman-by-trade Otto Porter Jr. and Jared Dudley, far outside of their respective comfort zones.

It opened up the floor for more than drives to the basket, like open shots on the perimeter and open space on the Wizards’ offensive glass as they got every loose ball, resulting in 19 second-chance points.

Drew Gooden came off the bench to give the Bulls fits with 12 points and 10 rebounds, hitting open shots and retrieving more than his share of boards that should’ve belonged to the Bulls.

Mirotic, Gibson and Pau Gasol struggled with the Wizards’ speed, just like the Bulls did against the Atlanta Hawks over the weekend. Gasol scored 15 with 10 rebounds, but was often caught flat-footed on the glass and on defense for most of the night.

And it sends the Bulls, once a team that seemed like it righted itself a week ago, back to the drawing board as they play a crucial stretch away from home.

“If you wanna be a top team, you wanna be a contender, you can’t afford (this),” Gasol said. “Championship teams don’t do this, bottom line.”


Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

Bulls are unlocking something with Zach LaVine: 'He was terrific'

MINNEAPOLIS—The applause was thunderous on the welcome back for Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine, two Timberwolves draft picks sent away when the chance to acquire Jimmy Butler came along.

But some of the air was taken out the Target Center due to the absence of Jimmy Butler, who’ll miss the next several weeks after deciding to have surgery on his right meniscus following an injury Friday night.

So while there was no rematch of the thrilling contest the two teams had in Chicago, some things were very much the same.

Lauri Markkanen’s struggles continued.

LaVine showed more flashes of his complete game and Dunn had a couple moments of his own.

And on the other side, Tom Thibodeau kept his starters in the game with victory secured and his team up 20 points in the Timberwolves’ 122-104 win over the Bulls Saturday night.

The Timberwolves broke the game open in the fourth quarter with some key shot-making from veteran Jamal Crawford, as he was one point short of the Timberwolves having four 20-point scorers on the night.

Jeff Teague, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins combined for 70 points in their first game of many without Butler.

LaVine was a main reason the Bulls stayed afloat in the first 36 minutes, finishing with 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds in his first game back in front of the Minneapolis crowd he spent his first few years playing for.

Going head-up with his former teammate Wiggins for a stretch, the two seemed to relish their practice matchups. Wiggins was doing a lot of pure scoring while LaVine seemed to enjoy probing the defense and making plays for teammates, taking more of a ballhandling role as opposed to floating around the perimeter for 3-point attempts.

“He’s doing a much better job not settling for tough shots,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s attacking the basket much better than he was. You can just see him getting his legs, getting more comfortable. It was good to see him as a playmaker, he was terrific.”

Perhaps the Bulls are unlocking something with LaVine, getting him the ball in different places and on the move, where he made some nifty passes in traffic, exercising patience and maturity.

“I liked it. Hopefully we get a little bit more of it,” LaVine said. “But it’s working. Should’ve stuck to it.”

They didn’t, as the Bulls didn’t look as organized as they have previously. Dunn looked extremely motivated and aggressive but it seemed to work against him at times as Teague took advantage of Dunn being too quick for his own good. So hyped up, Dunn blew a breakaway dunk in the first half, but luckily Nwaba was right behind him for a putback.

That type of energy was expected for Dunn and LaVine, maybe even moreso for Dunn considering his underwhelming rookie year where he didn’t get much chance to play as a top-five pick.

Dunn finished with 10 points on four of 12 shooting while Cameron Payne scored 11  in 19 minutes, but the decision making from both point guards left plenty to be desired—which is to be expected given the lack of veterans on the floor.

Their starting unit again struggled as Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez again sat as the evaluation of the younger players continued.

Cristiano Felicio had a better outing than his foul-plagued game against Philadelphia, scoring 11 points but had his hands full on the other end. David Nwaba impressed for the second straight game as a starter, getting in the open floor to force the action, scoring 14 with nine rebounds in 34 minutes.

“The second quarter, I thought, was one of our better quarters of the year,” Hoiberg said. “As bad as we played in the first quarter, I thought we were down 20. We just didn’t sustain it. Against a great team like that, it’s gonna cost you.”

Nwaba, along with Bobby Portis, was a big reason why the Timberwolves couldn’t run away from the Bulls until well into the fourth quarter, even after taking a double-digit lead in the first quarter and sending Hoiberg scrambling for early timeouts.

“You can expect it because you haven’t played with that group before,” LaVine said. “We’re gonna get that chemistry down. We (only) had a couple practices with that lineup.”

Whether it’s the lineup change or just the rookie blues, the year has clearly caught up with Markkanen, who only made one field goal in 32 minutes.

“Gotta get some extra shots up. I see myself thinking too much,” Markkanen said. “That’s how it is. Of course it’s frustrating to not make shots but it is what it is. Gotta work through it.”

Markkanen has gone one-for-eight in each game coming from the All-Star break and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts.

“He’s shooting the heck out of the ball in practice,” Hoiberg said. “He’s struggling right now with his confidence, no question about it. As a shooter, you gotta keep looking to be aggressive, take the open ones. It takes one game to get that confidence back.”

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

Jimmy Butler's injury produced memories for Zach LaVine, Fred Hoiberg

MINNEAPOLIS — That feeling of having your knee buckle out of nowhere, Zach LaVine is all-too familiar with it.

That feeling of being on the sidelines and watching Jimmy Butler’s knee give out, Fred Hoiberg has been there, too.

Different perspectives, and different reactions but Butler’s knee injury produced a sick feeling to many who watched it Friday night. Butler turned to pivot in the Timberwolves’ game against the Houston Rockets and immediately collapsed on the floor, having to be carried off.

LaVine tore his ACL in Detroit over a year ago, while it was revealed Butler suffered a right meniscus injury. But it looked all the same and LaVine understood the uncertainty Butler must’ve been feeling before the MRI revealed it wasn’t an ACL injury.

“It’s scary,” LaVine said following morning shootaround at the Target Center Saturday afternoon. “I wish him the best. You don’t want to see that happen to anybody. Especially a player of his caliber and what he’s done for the team.”

When LaVine injured his ACL, he actually played a few more minutes before being removed and going to the locker room. The time between being evaluated by doctors and them coming back feels like a lifetime.

“It’s scary. You know you hurt yourself, you don’t know how bad,” LaVine said. “You think you’re good, you’re a tough minded person trying to get through it.”

“I saw him on the ground trying to get up, (Rockets guard) Chris Paul made him sit down. Jimmy’s a tough dude. Thoughts and prayers going out to him.”

Butler and LaVine were the centerpieces of the draft day trade involving the Bulls and Timberwolves. With Butler suffering the injury the night before playing his former team a second time, the timing produced a bunch of memories.

In Hoiberg’s first year with the Bulls, Butler went down in a somewhat similar manner in Denver, a non-contact injury. It looked just as bad, and Butler was taken off the floor in a wheelchair.

Thankfully it was a right knee strain that cost him several weeks but it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Considering the minutes he’s played over the last few years, Hoiberg was asked if Butler pushes himself too hard to be on the floor.

“Jimmy he wants to be out there,” Hoiberg said. “I remember the first year in Denver, he went down with what looked to be a serious injury. Thankfully he was back on the floor after 15-16 games.”

Actually, Butler missed 11 consecutive games before coming back for a nationally-televised game against the Rockets, playing 34 minutes in a Bulls win and missing the next three games for recovery.

“We really worried when he went down but it wasn’t something that ended his season,” Hoiberg said. “Jimmy’s a worker. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve seen. It’s a huge reason for the type of player he is, that work ethic to make him one of the elite players in the league.”