WASHINGTON—Hoping to avenge a January road loss, the Bulls came into the Verizon Center with a purpose Tuesday night.
But again being undermanned, it wasn’t to be, as the vastly-improved Wizards (28-46), after trailing for through the entire first half, overtook their short-handed guests and behind former No. 1 overall pick John Wall, held off the Bulls for a 90-86 win.
After scoring the game’s first six points, the Bulls (40-33), powered by the forward tandem of Duke products Carlos Boozer (19 points, 12 rebounds, five assists) and Luol Deng (13 points, eight rebounds), jumped out to an early 10-2 lead, prompting a Wizards timeout.
Although Nazr Mohammed (12 points, 12 rebounds)—once again starting in place of All-Star center Joakim Noah; Marco Belinelli, Rip Hamilton and Derrick Rose were also sidelined with injuries—joined in as an additional scoring threat, whatever adjustments Washington head coach Randy Wittman made apparently worked.
Propelled by the play of the dynamic Wall, (27 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, three blocked shots) the hosts went on a 12-4 run to close the gap and make it a competitive affair.
Toward the end of the opening period, however, the Bulls clamped down on the defensive end of the floor, and through the end of a quarter of play, the visitors held a 24-18 advantage.
The Bulls maintained their slim cushion early in the second quarter, as Jimmy Butler, who started in place of Belinelli, began to find his groove after struggling with his shot in the opening frame—the second-year swingman began to knock down open shots, but also threw down a high-flying alley-oop in transition—while they also got a lift off the bench from top reserve Taj Gibson.
But the Wizards stayed within close contact, as the likes of veteran big man Nene and rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal made their presences felt, although Boozer gave the guests an offensive boost.
While Wall continued to wreak havoc on both ends of the court, the backcourt of veteran Kirk Hinrich and instant-offense scorer Nate Robinson (17 points) was also effective, which allowed the Bulls to gradually extend their edge.
At the intermission, the Bulls led, 49-42, though Taj Gibson hobbling off to the locker room due to a second-quarter left-knee injury was certainly sobering news.
After the break, Boozer again got off to quick start, but Washington continued to make it a battle, slicing into the deficit to make it a single-possession contest.
Behind the likes of Boozer and Robinson, the Bulls again acquired some breathing room to build a comfortable winning margin, but the hosts stormed back to make it a one-point game, as Wall dominated the action with both his playmaking and scoring, the latter of which featured a much-improved mid-range jumper.
As the third quarter wound down, the Wizards seized their first lead of the night on an Emeka Okafor jumper—off a Wall assist, naturally—and then attempted to hold their guests at bay for the remainder of the period.
[WATCH: Hinrich ejected for arguing a call]
Although a Deng three-point play in the frame’s final minute allowed the Bulls to briefly overtake the home team, heading into the final stanza, the tables had turned, as they trailed, 68-66, following two Wall free throws at the conclusion of the quarter.
Both teams struggled to score at the outset of the fourth quarter and while the combination of Boozer and Robinson propelled the Bulls, Wall’s scoring gave way to the third-year point guard opening things up for his teammates, as evidenced by reserve guard A.J. Price knocking down timely shots created by the face of Washington’s franchise.
With contributions from Mohammed leading the way, the Bulls continued to battle and kept things close and while Hinrich getting ejected with 3:19 left—the veteran was assessed back-to-back technical fouls for arguing a non-call; Wall missed both free throws—threw a monkey wrench into their plans, it remained a close-knit affair heading into the game’s stretch run.
After jumpers exchanged by Robinson and Price, a Mohammed putback knotted up the score at 86 apiece with under a minute to play, but following a timeout, an Okafor dunk put the Wizards ahead again.
Following a Washington defensive stop and another timeout, Boozer fouled Trevor Ariza out of necessity with eight seconds to go, and after the veteran small forward knocked down two free throws, the Wizards would win their eighth consecutive home game.