Wizards

Beal outduels LaVine as Wizards pull out close win over Bulls

Wizards

The Wizards staved off a late surge by the Bulls Monday night, capping off a solid game on the defensive end to earn a 105-101 win over the Bulls. 

Now at 6-15 on the year, the Wizards improved to 3-3 over their last six games. The wins were impressive, while the losses were anything but. In this one, Washington showed plenty of promise for a packed schedule moving forward. 

Davis Bertans gets the start over Deni Avdija

In an attempt to "activate" Davis Bertans, Scott Brooks decided to start the struggling sharpshooter over rookie wing Deni Avdija Monday night. Bertans entered this game shooting a career-worst 32.8% from three, and having just signed a five-year, $80 million contract, it was in the Wizards' interest to try to get him back on track. 

The start certainly gave Bertans a boost early on, hitting four quick threes in the first half to keep the Wizards' offense afloat, but he tailed off as the game went along and finished 4-for-11 on his 3-point attempts. 

Bertans has had a strange start to the season off the floor as well as on it. A work visa issue kept him out of the start of training camp, leaving him out of shape at the beginning of the year. That along with an 18-day layoff due to COVID-19 protocols ruining his rhythm have contributed to his early-season shooting slump. The Wizards' offense goes from good to great when Bertans is terrorizing defenses from deep. That's what Washington paid for, and if he's making his way back, the team has a better shot at turning its season around. 

 

Avdija made the most of his minutes off the bench as well. With more opportunities to play with the ball in his hand rather than spot-up, the rookie flashed the skills that made him a top-10 prospect in the draft. He created good looks for himself, made plays for his teammates off a live dribble and was an impactful defender on switches. The shot wasn't falling, but the rookie ended up as a +15 in a two-point game. 

Avdija's skillset may be better suited for the second unit, especially when Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal are taking up most, if not all, of the ball-handling duties when he's on the floor. It was a questionable decision by Brooks to pull a good defender in Avdija for someone who's been a complete minus in Bertans, but if it maximizes both players in the end, it could turn out to be a season-saving move. 

Rui balls out on his birthday

Rui Hachimura turned 23 on Monday and celebrated with one of his better games of the season. He was aggressive on offense, seeking out post-ups against smaller wings and was active defensively as well.

Hachimura scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and took the first charge of his career, firing up teammate Moe Wagner on the bench. It seems like the second-year pro has found areas on the floor he is comfortable looking for his shot, whether he's exploiting mismatches in the post or working off the catch at the top of the key. 

It's important for young players to develop go-to moves in areas they're confident, and it looks like Hachimura has a couple of spots he likes. 

Beal and LaVine go back and forth

As the poster-boys for All-Star snubs last season, Bradley Beal vs. Zach LaVine was the key matchup in this game. They did not disappoint either. Beal and LaVine went shot-for-shot as the two prolific scorers posed as their teams' primary and secondary sources of offense for long stretches Monday night. 

Beal finished with 35 points and dished out seven assists, while LaVine went for 35 points and six assists. 

It doesn't appear likely that both of these players make the Eastern Conference All-Star team, and since Beal currently leads all East guards in votes, it's probably going to be LaVine that gets snubbed once again. Still, it's clear they both look forward to this matchup and it's almost always entertaining when they share the floor. 

A promising showing on defense

A big reason for the Wizards' recent blow-out losses has been their defense, or lack thereof. They've failed to contain dribble penetration, close-out to shooters effectively or simply play with the kind of energy that leads to misses and turnovers. Granted the Bulls were without their starting frontcourt, but the Wizards had a good night defensively in this one. 

Alex Len turned in another solid performance, Beal played with great energy against LaVine and the Bulls turned it over 16 times and shot 30% from three. On a night Brooks went with Bertans at small forward over Avdija, Washington managed to keep the Bulls offense in check, relatively speaking. 

 

Wizards Bulls

For whatever reason, the Wizards have really struggled against the Bulls recently. Before Monday's game, the Wizards were 2-8 against Chicago over their last 10 meetings, and it's not like the Bulls have been playoff contenders during that span. 

With the win, the Wizards snapped a three-game losing streak against the Bulls, potentially shaking some odd troubles against a team that hasn't been very good. 

The Bulls have a lot of promising young scorers who don't play a ton of defense and depending on the night, struggle to impact the game in ways other than putting the ball in the basket. Maybe it's the Wizards' defense that allows the Bulls' strengths to outweigh their weaknesses, or perhaps LaVine gets up for these games because of the matchup with Bradley Beal. Whatever it is, the Bulls have had Washington's number.

Tune into NBC Sports Washington at 6 p.m. Wednesday for full coverage of the Wizards' next game against the Toronto Raptors.