The Washington Wizards (11-31) cruised to an 86-73 victory over the Chicago Bulls (26-17) at the Verizon Center Saturday night, marking the first time since January 2008 that Washington has celebrated five straight wins at home.
The game lacked the dazzling plays and late-quarter dramatics that many of the Wizards’ seven wins in the past 10 games featured. The crowd – which represented the Wizards’ third sellout this season – rose to its feet primarily for giveaways and Jumbotron opportunities until the game’s final minutes.
But, the Wizards did exactly what they needed to in order to beat the Bulls at home for the first time since Feb. 22, 2010.
They spread the ball and – more importantly – they shared the wealth. By the end of the night, three of the Wizards’ starters – Emeka Okafor, Nene and John Wall – tallied double-digit points. Okafor added 16 boards to round out his ninth double-double of the season. Even more, while Wall – along with Bradley Beal and Kevin Seraphin – struggled to sink mid-range jumpers, the Wizards scored 48 points in the paint – nearly 15 points higher than their average this season.
“I told our front line, I thought we were as physical tonight as we’ve really been,” said Wizards head coach Randy Wittman after the game. “Delivering blows and rebounding the ball. Every time you play Chicago, you know it’s going to be a bloodbath. It’s going to be scratch, claw, fight for every point and every rebound there is and it was like that the first game we played them. For us to come out tonight and hold them to 29 in the second half, that is what won the game. We are continuing to move, share the ball, trust in one another from and offensive standpoint and I’m really proud.”
The Wizards got things off on the right foot with a steal by John Wall, who dished it to Bradley Beal off the fast break to put Washington on the board first. Not long after, however, the Bulls mimicked the play when Richard Hamilton stole off Wall’s bad pass in time to pitch it to Jimmy Butler for the follow-through dunk to make the score 8-5 Wizards.
The two plays essentially set the tone for the first half. Neither team committed glaring errors, but both defenses did little to slow down the impending shootout.
In particular, they struggled to shut down Nate Robinson, who turned out to be the only player on the Bulls’ roster to reach double-digit points with 19 on the night.
The Wizards made defensive adjustments at the half and took charge in the third quarter - and the Bulls began to unravel.
Two minutes into the quarter, the crowd finally rose to their feet – and with good reason – as Nene found Martell Webster for a huge slam to put the Wizards on top 56-46. Washington expanded its lead to 14 points as Okafor delivered with a spin move and layup, forcing a timeout by Chicago.
By the end of the third, Washington outscored the Bulls 23-11, which marked the lowest scoring quarter for the Bulls this season.
“I think from start to finish this is probably our best defensive effort for 48,” Wittman said. “I was really important – I think – coming out in that third quarter, both of us having played last night, to deliver right away from the start. It got us going and energized, you win the quarter by 12 and build yourself a cushion.”
The Bulls’ frustrations became apparent once Carlos Boozer earned a flagrant foul for elbowing Okafor in the face. Things got chippy on the court once Boozer added another personal foul and technical to the mix, but the Wizards maintained their focus.
The Bulls pulled back within 10 points in the middle of the fourth quarter, but the Wizards outran the ball and out-defended the Derrick Rose-less Chicago team enough to hold on for an 86-73 win.
With the win, the Wizards have officially provided Washington with a glimpse of what .500 basketball looks like, as their record for the month of January now stands at 7-7. They will have to carry their momentum Monday night against the Sacramento Kings in order to extend their streak at home.
Alyssa Wolice is a Contributor to District Sports Page. An American University alum, Alyssa worked as a political blogger and financial reporter before making the switch to sports journalism. As a former production assistant, she covered the Nationals, Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, D.C. United and local collegiate teams. A New Jersey native, Alyssa currently serves as a community and sports reporter for a number of small-town newspapers in her home state and works full-time as a marketing communications specialist with a trade association based in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter @awolice.