Chicago Bulls

Bradley Beal, Wizards hold off Bulls for win

Bradley Beal, Wizards hold off Bulls for win

WASHINGTON (AP) Playing their first game without Dwyane Wade, the Chicago Bulls almost pulled off an improbable comeback against the Washington Wizards.

That's small consolation for a struggling team fighting for a playoff spot.

Bradley Beal scored nine of his 24 points in the fourth quarter, John Wall dished out a career-high 20 assists to go with 14 points, and the Wizards held on to defeat the Bulls 112-107 on Friday night.

Minus Wade, whose fractured elbow will keep him out for the rest of the regular season, the Bulls were down 19 points at halftime before getting as close as one.

"I hate this word, `soft.' I hate it, but that's exactly what we were," Butler said of his team's start. "They beat us to every 50-50 ball, worked our tail in transition, we turned the ball over. Those things that we've talked about all year long replayed in that first half."

Chicago rallied and eventually had a chance to tie it, but a well-guarded Butler missed a 3-pointer from the wing with 3.9 seconds left.

"I'll take that shot," Butler said. "Maybe I should've side-stepped a little bit. You can say all this stuff now, but I had a great look at it."

Butler finished with 28 points and Robin Lopez added a season-high 25 points and 12 rebounds for the Bulls, who began the night in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, and have lost seven of eight.

Wall, playing despite spraining his left foot in Wednesday's loss to Dallas, sank four free throws in the final minute, including two with 1.8 seconds left.

Washington's Jason Smith, starting in place of Markieff Morris who was a late scratch due to illness, tied his season high with 17 points and Ian Mahinmi had a season-high 16.

"It was solely attributed to John," Smith said of his output. "He was distributing the ball to everybody."

Washington, 21-4 in its last 25 games, had lost two straight, allowing 119 and 112 points.

"We got back to defending the right way, guarding our guy individually," Beal said. "They made some tough shots and some big 3's here and there, but for the most part I thought we did a solid job.

The Wizards led 49-40 late in the first half when Smith's jumper started a 10-0 run that was capped by Wall's 3-pointer that circled the rim and dropped as the half ended.

Those were Wall's only points of the half, but he had 12 assists.

"There's only a few guys in the league that can dominate a game with passing, and he's one of them," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said.

The Bulls rally began in the third quarter and Nikola Mirotic's 3-pointer with 1:24 left pulled the Bulls within two at 104-102. Wall's 20th assist then produced Marcin Gortat's layup.

Butler hit a 3 to pull Chicago to within one with 39.7 seconds left before Otto Porter's two free throws put Washington up 110-107 with 18.4 seconds to go.

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

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USA TODAY

If the Bulls buy out Dwyane Wade, the Heat seem like they'd welcome him back

The Bulls are in complete rebuild mode, and that means they have little use for 35-year-old Dwyane Wade.

ESPN's Nick Friedell reported last week that it's a matter of when - not if - the Bulls will buy out Wade. The future Hall of Famer is due $24 million this upcoming season, but how much Wade receives in a potential buyout could hold things up in the short-term.

The question then becomes: where would Wade land after he passes through waivers and becomes a free agent?

A potential destination is joining good friend LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But Wade could also consider going back to the Miami Heat, where he spent the first 13 years of his NBA career.

And if he did, budding star Hassan Whiteside says the team would welcome back Wade with open arms.

"It'd be great," Whiteside told the Sun Sentinel. "It's a three-time NBA champion coming back, coming in and really helping a team out. It would be great."

Stay tuned, but it seems like a Wade-to-Miami reunion is a real possibility.

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

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USA TODAY

State of the Bulls: Stacked 2018 draft class

2018 draft class is loaded at the top

Quietly, you can bet Bulls' front office executives John Paxson and Gar Forman had a little celebration after hearing that prep star Marvin Bagley III was going to graduate from high school early and enroll at Duke for the 2017-18 season, making him eligible for the 2018 draft.

Bagley, a 6'11 power forward from Los Angeles, is being compared to longtime NBA star Chris Bosh, right down to his smooth left-handed shooting touch. Bagley averaged 24.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and two blocked shots during his junior season for Sierra Canyon H.S. He's also fared well against NBA competition at the highly-regarded Drew League in L.A. this summer. Bagley’s physical tools are off the charts, and you can count on Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski preparing him well for life in the NBA.

Most NBA scouts and execs expect the No. 1 overall pick to come down to either Bagley or Michael Porter Jr., who will play his one season of college basketball at Missouri. The 6'10 Porter averaged an amazing 34.8 points and 13.8 rebounds last season against Seattle high school competition. He's considered a more dynamic scorer than Bagley with more range on his jump shot. Some scouts believe he could quickly develop into one of the league's elite players with Kevin Durant-type length and shooting ability at the small forward position.

International swingman Luka Doncic is also highly coveted by NBA teams. The 6'8 swingman has excellent shooting range, and is also capable of creating his own shot with outstanding ball-handling ability. Forget the stereotype of European players being mechanical and unable to compete athletically, Doncic is capable of being an 18-20 point scorer in the NBA and should go in the top five next June. He's considered one of the best international prospects in the last decade.

Two 7-footers also will hear their names called early on draft night 2018. University of Arizona freshman DeAndre Ayton averaged 19.8 points and 12 rebounds in high school last season, while Texas freshman center Mohamed Bomba has an incredible 7-foot-9 wingspan. Sure, the NBA has moved away from the traditional low post center, but teams are still looking to acquire agile big men like Karl-Anthony Towns, Joel Embiid, DeAndre Jordan, Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside. Depending on how they fare against top level college competition, Ayton and Bomba could round out the top five.

Other names to watch in the lottery portion of next year's draft include Texas A&M power forward Robert Williams, Michigan State's forward duo of Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson Jr., and the latest one-and-dones from John Calipari's Kentucky program, center Nick Richards and small forward Jarred Vanderbilt.

In case you missed it, ESPN released its preseason win total expectations for the Eastern Conference on Wednesday, and the Bulls were dead last with a projected record of 26-56. Now, I'm not sure a team with veterans Dwyane Wade and Robin Lopez and the three young players acquired in the Jimmy Butler trade with Minnesota will be quite that bad, but if you're going to rebuild, the idea is to get the best draft pick possible, and the Bulls appear to be on course for a top-five selection depending on how the lottery falls.

If the Bulls are able to land an elite talent like Porter Jr., Bagley III or Doncic in the draft, then use their $40-50 million in cap space to land a couple of quality free agents, the rebuild might not be as painful as some fans are fearing.

Last dance for LeBron in Cleveland?

Well-connected NBA writer Chris Sheridan dropped this bomb on Twitter Wednesday, quoting an NBA source, "This will be LeBron's final season in Cleveland. He is 100 percent leaving. Relationship with owners beyond repair." Don’t forget, Sheridan was the first national writer to report James was going to leave Miami to go back to Cleveland in 2014, so his reports definitely warrant a little extra attention.

Okay, we've already heard countless rumors about James planning to join the Lakers after next season. He's built a mansion in Brentwood, is close with Magic Johnson and will be able to bring another superstar with him to L.A. like Paul George or Russell Westbrook. Plus, the Lakers have a number of talented young players in place like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. and a promising coach in Luke Walton.

Add in the likelihood Kyrie Irving will be traded before training camp opens and LeBron's long-standing poor relationship with Cavs' owner Dan Gilbert, and you have the perfect formula for another James' free agent decision next July. Although, I'm not sure why LeBron would want to go West, where Golden State is positioned to dominate the league for another five seasons, with strong challengers like the Rockets and Spurs still in place. 

But if we've learned anything from watching James over the years, he's clearly a man who wants to align the odds in his favor. So don't rule out anything when it comes to James' free agent decision. If the Cavs make a home run trade for Irving, maybe LeBron decided to plays out his career in his home state. If not, look for him to find a team with the cap space to bring in another top star to run with him.

Back in 2010, the Bulls carved out the cap space to add two max contract stars, but lost out to Pat Riley in Miami. This time around they won't be on James' July travel itinerary.

One thing we know for sure. Where LeBron plays in 2018 will be the number one story throughout the NBA season.