All-Star hopefuls Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal face off as Bulls host Wizards

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All-Star hopefuls Zach LaVine, Bradley Beal face off as Bulls host Wizards

Wizards’ last five games (3-2)

  • Jan. 12 — L vs. Jazz: 127-116

  • Jan. 10 — W vs. Hawks: 111-101

  • Jan. 8 — L at Magic: 123-89

  • Jan. 6 — W vs. Celtics: 99-94

  • Jan. 4 — W vs. Nuggets: 128-114

Storyline(s) to watch

The Wizards (13-26) remain one of the more random, yet entertaining groups in the league. They still own a high-powered offense, rated ninth in the NBA, a sluggish defense, rated dead last by almost a full point per 100 possessions, but from the ever-excellent Bradley Beal to the insurgent Davis Bertans, to the resurgent Isaiah Thomas, they’re apt to shock anyone on a nightly basis. Just over a week ago, they logged successive victories over the Nuggets and Celtics without Beal; tonight, they trot into Chicago on two days rest, good news for a team that’s at its best running and gunning.

In the Wiz is a good test for a Bulls (14-27) defense, slipping. Since Dec. 30 — a stretch that’s seen the Bulls drop seven of eight games — their defensive rating of 115.6 ranks 26th in the NBA, and their season-long rating has slid from third to ninth. The competition ramped up, Wendell Carter Jr. went down and, inevitably, the fissures are beginning to show. We’re likely not in for a ride as wild as these teams’ last meetup on Dec. 18, when the Bulls erased an 18-point fourth quarter deficit and stole an overtime win in D.C., but a victory of any variety would be welcome for the Bulls.

Player to watch: Bradley Beal

If your ‘Zach LaVine All-Star watch’ radar is on high alert, Beal is a guy to track every night, but especially in a head-to-head matchup. 

Beal is one game returned from a leg injury that caused him to miss five of the Wizards’ first six contests of the month, and in that game — an 11-point loss to the Jazz — he scored 25 points on 11-for-25 shooting (0-for-7 from 3). LaVine’s torrid tear since the start of December was somewhat quelled by an 8-for-21 shooting night against Detroit on Saturday, but he bounced back in Boston to the tune of 30 points on 9-for-18 (3-for-6 from deep), albeit in defeat. 

When these two squared off back in December, neither had particularly impressive scoring outings — Beal netting 22 points on 4-for-19 and LaVine 24 on 6-for-23 — but LaVine won the stretch run with a personal 8-2 run to cap a miraculous Bulls comeback in regulation. He also, remember, dished out the game-winning assist in OT to Wendell Carter Jr., one of LaVine’s five dimes on the night. 

In terms of the All-Star discussion, Beal’s dizzying 27.7 points per game mark for the season (fifth in the NBA) and two prior All-Star berths probably give him an edge over LaVine for the time being, especially with each of their teams mired well under .500. With both likely to float amongst the reserve pool for coaches and media to sift through, anything is possible come February, but as for tonight, two of the best scoring guards in the league duking it out remains great theater, regardless.

Matchup to watch: Lauri Markkanen vs. Wizards froncourt

The aforementioned Dec. 18 matchup saw Lauri Markkanen posit his second-best performance of the season. In the win, he scored 31 points on 19 shots, snared nine rebounds and canned five of 10 3-point attempts, shouldering the offensive load for much of the game with LaVine enduring an off-night. 

On a related note: Amidst a litany of putrid defensive numbers for the Wizards this season, issues on the interior stand out. Washington allows opponents 52.1 points in the paint per game (27th in the NBA), blocks only 4.2 shots per contest (26th) and collects just 42.5 rebounds per game (29th). Their established frontcourt rotation of Ian Mahimni, Davis Bertans and Anzejs Paseczniks is as porous as they come.

Even with Thomas Bryant back in a limited capacity for the Wiz, the shorthanded Bulls should be able to take advantage. It will be especially important for Markkanen to do so — his regression to this point this season has become eyebrow-raising. Draining his open ones, running the floor and assertively attacking closeouts will be his recipe for success, as on most nights.

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Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Roommates, brothers, opponents: Coby White, Cam Johnson reunite and show out

Cameron Johnson had just been selected by the Phoenix Suns with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. At the time, the move was a surprise — Johnson was projected to fall into the middle to late first round, despite averaging 16.9 points and shooting 45.7% from 3 in his last year at North Carolina.

So, elation was a natural response for all close to Johnson. And nobody displayed that elation more authentically — nor more publicly — than Johnson’s teammate, roommate and ‘little brother’ Coby White (who had been picked by the Bulls just four slots earlier). You remember the clip:

That familial bond was grown over many nights bunking together on the road during White’s one and only year at UNC. It all began on a week-long trip to the Bahamas in advance of last season.

“Coming in, I'm the type of dude where if I don't really know you, then I don't talk a lot,” White said. “And then Cam was like ‘Why you so anti(-social)?’ and then it kinda started from there. He became a guy I could always go to if I ever needed something, on or off the court.”

“You know, seniors pair with freshmen, make sure they're everybody they need to be on time,” Johnson, a fifth-year in 2018-19, said. “But he was, like, a mature, easy, no-drama freshman. His composure was at a very high level, his maturity was at a very high level.”

White scoffed at that, saying he got a similar rep (of being ‘mature’) in his first weeks with the Bulls. “I was like nah just trust me,” he said. “And now I'm like that little brother that's annoying them.”

Still, Johnson and White became fast friends over their overlapping year in Chapel Hill. Though it’s been tough to keep in touch amid the rigors of their first NBA seasons, they each agreed competing against each other was a fun change of pace.

“It was great seeing him, I hadn't seen him in a long time, so it was great seeing him,” White said. “We talk here and there, but because we're so busy — it's one of those things, like, you know no matter what we're gonna have each other's backs, we always gonna be there for each other when we need each other.”

“I love that kid, man. I tell you, most of the time when we talk it’s just saying what’s up and just reminding each other that we love each other,” Johnson said. “That’s my guy and I went over and gave him a big hug before I went on the court today.”


What ensued come gametime was special for all. In the contest — a 112-104 Suns victory — White poured in a career-high 33 points and canned seven 3-pointers, shooting 11-for-22 from the field. Johnson notched 11 points and three 3-pointers, and made all of them count.

“It was fun, but I hate him so much,” White said of Johnson, who hit two of his three 3-pointers in the game’s fourth quarter. “I just know whenever he shoots if he gets any type of open look it's going in. So every time he shot it in my head, I'm like mad cause I'm like, he's the one you just can't leave him open. The ball just kept finding him in open space.”

But then, with a smile: “But obviously it's all love. After the game, I talked to him, he told me he was proud of me and whatnot. He's like a big brother to me, so it means a lot.”

There’s just something about these Tar Heels. With Roy Williams at the United Center on Nov. 12, White set a Bulls record for 3-pointers in a quarter with seven in the fourth against the Knicks. Tonight, lined up across from Johnson, he scored the second-most points in Bulls franchise history by a rookie off the bench.

He, Johnson and Bulls fans everywhere, will be counting down the days until the team visits Phoenix on April 5.

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Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops career high vs Suns


Bulls Outsiders Podcast: Coby White drops career high vs Suns

On this edition of the Bulls Outsiders podcast, Matt Peck, David Watson, and Allana Tachauer discuss Coby White's big night, a hypothetical created by the Chicago Sun-Times Joe Cowley, and discuss Dwyane Wade's jersey retirement in Miami.

0:45 - Allana Tachauer joins the show for John Sabine

1:15 - Recap of Coby White's career night vs the Suns

6:30 - Breakdown of the Bulls bigs on Saturday

9:10 - What is Zach LaVine's level of frustration?

11:00 - Fans miss John Sabine's gloves

13:30 - Can Coby compete with Ja Morant for best PG from 2019 NBA Draft?

16:45 - Would you rather have LaVine's or Booker's contract going forward?

21:40 - Viewer comment about Felicio/Harrison/Arcidiacono getting 40 minutes?!

25:00 - Dwyane Wade's number gets retired: Allana tries not to cry

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Bulls Outsiders


 Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.