The Bulls are in a must-win situation tonight in Washington, and it's all happening tonight on Comcast SportsNet Plus. Coverage beings at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, where Mark Schanowski and Will Perdue preview Game 3. And stick with CSN+ after the game for Bulls Postgame Live, where we'll have highlights, analysis and reaction from Tom Thibodeau and the rest of the Bulls.
Entering the 2014 NBA playoffs, the Bulls were the prohibitive favorites in their first-round series against the Wizards. Holding the second best record in the Eastern Conference since the All-Star break, touting the would-be Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah and running out an experienced lineup each night made them a sure bet to at least advance past the quarterfinals. Facing a young Wizards group was the least of the Bulls' worries, and many pundits predicted Thibodeau's group would be worrying more about how to get past the Indiana Pacers and potentially the defending champion Miami Heat than they would a Wizards group that hadn't been to the playoffs since 2008.
As it turns out, the Wizards are the real deal, a team worth worrying about. They hold a 2-0 lead and, with two games upcoming in Washington, could further their commanding stronghold on the series by even splitting those contests in the nation's capital. Taking a 3-1 series lead back to Chicago entering a Game 5 would almost surely spell doom for the Bulls.
And as good as power forward Nene has been -- he's averaged 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds through two games -- the real story has been the aggressive, confident play of the Wizards' backcourt.
Bradley Beal and John Wall have been impressive thus far, averaging 19.5 and 16 points, respectively, through two games. In the Wizards' Game 2 overtime win, Beal scored a game-high 26 points and Wall managed 16 points and seven assists while coming back from down 10 points in the final six minutes to force and win overtime.
The presumed storyline for those two players entering this year's playoffs was that both players were a few years away from really competing in the Eastern Conference. Wall is in his fourth year, but he's still just 23 years old; Beal is in his second season and still can't legally drink. The duo is going to be a force in the East for years to come, but it appears that window has already opened and they're making the most of it.
Besides the scoring output, those two have combined for 22 assists, crashed the boards well enough and stepped up in the clutch, something the Bulls backcourt -- the Bulls team, to be more specific -- has not done.
It has created a 2-0 lead for the Wizards heading back to Washington, and now the Bulls must respond with a pair of wins. They can't do that until they win Game 3, and though history isn't on Chicago's side there's optimism they can overcome it.
This year the Wizards were just 22-19 at home, the worst record among all 16 playoff teams. Four teams in the West which did not make the playoffs had equal or better records than that, and the No. 8 Hawks won two more games than them.
And the Bulls have had recent success in the nation's capital. Earlier this month the Bulls exploded for a 96-78 win in Washington, D.C., with D.J. Augustin going for 25 points and the Wizards shooting just 40 percent from the floor while shooting 3 of 16 from beyond the arc. Wall and Beal combined to shoot 15-for-33 in that game, though the rest of the team managed to shoot 36 percent.
Kirk Hinrich and Jimmy Butler must find a way to slow down Washington's blooming backcourt, and Thibodeau must find an offense that can produce down the stretch. The Bulls have responded to adversity well all year, and now they face their toughest test yet. They'll need to be at their best tonight, and it's all happening on CSN.
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