Closing out the lone three-games-in-three-nights stretch of the compressed schedule and playing without injured guards Derrick Rose, Rip Hamilton and C.J. Watson, the Chicago Bulls eeked out a 78-64 win over the lowly Washington Wizards on Wednesday night at the United Center. The Bulls improved to 10-2, tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA.
Starting in place of Rose (sprained left big toe), John Lucas III dropped 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists while shooting 11-for-28 from the field and 1-for-7 from three-point range in 45 minutes of action -- all of which career-highs for the 29-year-old. Luol Deng had a double-double of 12 points and 15 rebounds (five offensive) in 45 minutes, contributing in other areas amidst a rough, 5-for-21 shooting night. Kyle Korver continued to ride the confidence he's built the past five games, pouring in 14 points on 5-for-10 shooting. The veteran sharpshooter has been much more active on the glass this season, adding six rebounds against the Wizards (1-9).
While the Bulls' offense was not a product to marvel at, the team's defense suffocated the Wizards all night, especially in the second half when the visitors scored only 27 points. The Wizards -- who were led by center JaVale McGee's 10 points, 14 rebounds and five high-flying blocks -- shot a paltry 31 percent from the field, had 11 fourth-quarter points and were outrebounded 62-46. However, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau certainly wasn't pleased with his team's slow start to the second half. The Wizards took a brief 51-49 lead with five minutes and 39 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Bulls finished the frame on a modest, yet critical, 8-4 run.
The Bulls had plenty of lulls and stagnant ball and player movement offensively, as expected minus their leader. Whenever they needed a big shot, though, another point guard stepped up -- Lucas. He attempted the aforementioned 28 shots, although most came in the flow of the offense.
The bottom line for the Bulls is that, while they beat up on a poor Wizards team, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer have remained spectators during crucial fourth quarters time and time again. Noah, who suffered a strained left thumb in the first half, checked out with four minutes and 41 seconds left in the third stanza and Boozer left about a minute later. Neither starting big man returned.
Instead, Thibodeau again went with duo of Omer Asik and Taj Gibson. The reserve big men combined for 17 points, 20 rebounds (nine offensive) and seven blocks. Noah and Boozer? Eight points, 10 rebounds and one block. The Bulls had six offensive rebounds in one fourth-quarter sequence. As a squad, they flowed better on both ends of the court with Asik and Gibson.
When Gibson (plus-20) and Asik (plus-17) were on the court, the Bulls outscored the Wizards by a combined 37 points. When Noah (minus-five) and Boozer (minus-four) were on the court, the Bulls were outscored by a combined nine. No matter the outcome of the game, the play of Noah and Boozer, the Bulls' two big-money investments, is a conundrum that simply won't go away. Through 12 games, the tandem has truly clicked from start to finish in only one contest, Jan. 4 against the Detroit Pistons.
Next up, the Bulls receive a much-needed day off Thursday before taking on the Boston Celtics on Friday night at TD Garden.