By Rich Dubroff
WASHINGTON – Five games remain before the Bulls start the playoffs. They can only hope that wins will come as easily then as they did on Saturday night.
By the end of the first half, the game was essentially over. The Bulls had twice as many points as the Washington Wizards, and not even a poor third quarter could derail them.
The Bulls ended up with a 96-78 win over the Wizards before 19,661 at Verizon Center could have been a playoff preview, but coach Tom Thibodeau, as usual, wanted to focus on this game, and this one alone.
D.J. Augustin scored 25 points, including six three-pointers. Joakim Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds. Carlos Boozer added 16.
“The stats tell you how important is to get off to a good start, but I think playing from a lead is important. It’s about making winning plays throughout the game,” Thibodeau said.
The Bulls (45-32) never trailed, and an 8-0 run gave them a 19-8 lead with 4:03 to play in the first quarter. They led 28-16 after one with Boozer scoring 10.
The second quarter was even better defensively. The Bulls held the Wizards (40-37) to 10 points. Washington missed 15 of their 22 field goals and the Bulls led 52-26 at halftime.
“We wanted to throw the first punch tonight, and I think we did a good job with that tonight. In the beginning of the game, we were the more aggressive team. Usually, the most aggressive team wins,” Noah said.
Augustin had 15 points in the second quarter, hitting three 3-pointers.
“It was our defense tonight. Our defense was great. Our defense made us run, got us easy buckets in transition,” Augustin said.
Washington put more pressure on the Bulls in the third quarter, and at one point cut the lead to 11, but they still had a 76-61 lead after three.
In the third quarter, the Wizards made 14 of 22 from the field, but that first half was so important to the Bulls.
“It gives us so much confidence. You lock up defensively. You go out on the break and gives you opportunities to go out and be more free on offense, just knowing that our defense is so good. It just gives you a little bit more freedom,” Noah said.
After Marcin Gortat scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, the Bulls scored the next 12 points to take an 88-63 lead with 7:58 to play. Noah scored the first seven points of the run.
In January, the Bulls lost two games in four days to Washington when they were re-invented themselves after the Luol Deng trade. It’s a much different team, now.
“I think we’re a confident group right now. You definitely learn from your experiences. Yeah, our team is better. We’ve gone through a lot. We’re playing good basketball. We’re confident and we’re ready for these playoffs,” Noah said.