Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

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Belinelli, Bulls hold off Wizards

A win is a win, the old axiom goes and it certainly applied Saturday night, as the Bulls (16-12) held on to beat the woeful Wizards (4-24), 87-77, at the United Center, snapping a two-game losing streak.

It wasnt a textbook victory by any means and in terms of performances, a superior opponent could have probably overcome the hosts listless effort, but no matter the Bulls simply needed to get off the schneid and sometimes the best cure for what ails a team is facing off with the most inept foe possible, especially when the game ends on a stellar defensive note.

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The veteran backcourt of Kirk Hinrich (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and Rip Hamilton (nine points in 14 minutes) the latter returned to the lineup after missing nearly a month due to a torn left plantar fascia, though he exited the contest midway through the period started the game with an aggressive offensive mindset, but the Bulls were countered by a confident Wizards group coming off one of their four wins on the season.

MORE: Hamilton makes his return to Bulls' lineup

Buoyed by a victory the previous evening, the likes of veteran big man Nene, rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal (14 points) and reserve post player Kevin Seraphin (12 points) originally a Bulls draft pick, he was sent to Washington along with Hinrich back in 2010 were effective and efficient scoring threats.

Luol Deng (11 points, six rebounds, four assists), who sprained his right ankle in the hosts Christmas Day loss to Houston, also made his presence felt in the early going, but two quick fouls on Joakim Noah (nine points, 11 rebound, five assists) hurt their cause, further allowing the visiting big men to establish themselves and the Wizards to build a slim cushion. At the conclusion of the first quarter, the Bulls trailed the team with the NBAs worst record, 26-22.

Deng continued his positive early play and was complemented by reserves Taj Gibson and Marco Belinelli (17 points), who replaced Hamilton earlier from his previous role off the bench, but maintained his confidence and appeared to be poised to become a second-unit spark.

Still, it remained a close-knit affair, as Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau seemed to be experimenting with different lineups, given that he finally had a healthier rotation at his disposal.

Gradually, the Bulls gained some separation and propelled by the energetic play of backup point guard Nate Robinson, as well as Noah providing a lift upon his return and Carlos Boozer (15 points, 12 rebounds) being active on the glass, the game bore a closer resemblance to what could have been expected.

But by no means were the Bulls running away with the contest and at the intermission, they held a 45-39 lead, following a jumper by Shelvin Mack, called up from the D-League by Washington recently, at the halftime buzzer.

After the break, a balanced offensive attack resulted in the Bulls building a double-digit lead, as improved defense, Wizards turnovers and a greater sense of urgency were all factors. Hamilton looked to be back to his usual form, while Boozer and Noah found their grooves as scorers, allowing Hinrich to focus on playmaking and defense.

However, that stretch didnt last, as Washington, led by the likes of veteran Emeka Okafor (11 points, 18 rebounds) and starting point guard Garrett Temple, another D-League call-up, helped the visitors severely cut into the deficit, eventually making it a two-point game after an 11-0 run as the third quarter wore on.

But the Bulls recovered from their temporary bout of malaise and behind the combination of Hinrich and Belinelli, they headed into the final stanza with a 70-63 advantage, after Mack hit yet another improbable buzzer-beater to end the period.

Belinelli emerged as the Bulls catalyst at the outset of the fourth quarter, helping the home team maintain their edge, but the Wizards continued to battle and remained within striking distance, as Okafor and Beal made positive impacts for the visitors. The pattern of Washington narrowing the gap and the Bulls subsequently pulling away persisted, as Boozer joined Belinelli as an offensive focal point.

Heading into the games stretch run, the Bulls cushion stayed intact, partially due to the fact that Washington couldnt muster up enough offense to stay in close contact, but it was also notable that Thibodeau opted to go with Jimmy Butler the second-year swingman previously looked like the odd man out of the wing rotation with Hamiltons return over Deng, the leagues minutes-per-game-leader in the clutch, during which the Wizards were scoreless over the final 5:18.

In the end, the devil is in the details and at the conclusion of the 82-game season, the hard-to-watch proceedings will simply go down as a Bulls victory in the standings.

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

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The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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