WASHINGTON If any contest could be circled on the schedule as a so-called trap game, it would be Saturday nights affair at the Verizon Center.
With the Bulls (26-17) flying high, riding a three-game winning streak and coming off a game in Chicago the previous evening, the upstart Wizards (11-31), who have been playing much-improved basketball as of late, pulled off a shocker, winning 86-73, spoiling Joakim Noahs stellar all-around outing and a game-high scoring effort from Nate Robinson.
Propelled by point guard John Wall (15 points, seven assists), in his second start of the regular season the former No. 1 overall draft pick has led Washington to a 5-3 record since returning from a knee injury, the same number of wins the team had in the first 33 games of the campaign the Wizards jumped out to a quick start.
Forced to play catch-up, the Bulls made it a close-knit affair, led by balanced scoringaided by Rip Hamilton, Kirk Hinrich and Carlos Boozer continued their recent scoring upticks and Noahs (nine points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists) blend of rebounding and playmaking.
Still, the hosts maintained a narrow edge over their guests, as the likes of veteran center Emeka Okafor (15 points, 16 rebounds), who contributed solid interior play, made an impact, though the visitors overall lackluster play certainly had an influence, too.
But despite their apparent lack of focus in the early going, the Bulls escaped the opening period with a 24-23 advantage, following a bank shot by backup point guard Nate Robinson (19 points) with 1.9 seconds left in the first quarter.
Bench production from Robinson, backcourt partner Marco Belinelli and reserve big man Taj Gibson sparked the Bulls at the outset of the second quarter, though their efforts were countered by Washingtons cadre of reinforcements.
Second-string point guard A.J. Price and the frontcourt trio of Trevor Ariza, Trevor Booker and Kevin Seraphin technically a 2010 Bulls draft pick, the center was sent to the Wizards with Hinrich, ending the veteran floor generals original Bulls stint valiantly made it a back-and-forth affair, until Robinsons blend of playmaking and instant-offense scoring gave the visitors some breathing room.
Washington responded, however, going on an 11-0 run to suddenly turn the tables and getting a rise out of the largely apathetic crowd, via Walls playmaking, veteran big man Nenes (16 points) work in the paint and backup guard Jordan Crawfords explosive scoring.
Robinson ended the spurt with a triple and the teams exchanged baskets for the remainder of the half, sending the Bulls into the intermission trailing, 50-44.
After the break, the Wizards, led by the big-man tandem of Okafor and Nene, picked up where they left off, going on a 10-2 run at the outset of the third quarter to put the visitors in a double-digit hole, prompting a timeout by Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau.
Perhaps a bit frustrated, Boozers elbow connected with Okafors face as the former tried to gain post-up position, resulting in a flagrant foul, subsequently followed by Boozer again leveling Okafor on the next possession.
Boozer was hit with a technical for his actions, as well as his fourth foul Nene seemingly retaliated by knocking down Noah, who played peacemaker in the aforementioned situation, showing that tensions had escalated on both side but regardless of any potential altercations, Washington was still in control of the contest, also enjoying a gradually-ballooning lead.
Aside from the on-court drama, the Bulls also struggled with ball-security issues, defensive lapses the Wizards dominated their guests in the paint, usually a point of pride for the visitors vaunted defense and generally sloppy play, leading to a 73-55 deficit heading into the final stanza.
Although the Wizards briefly enjoyed a 20-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the Bulls fought back, going on a 7-0 run to make their uphill battle more manageable with a lineup that featured recent acquisition Daequan Cook.
With Robinson leading the charge and pressure defense applied to their opponents, the Bulls continued to chip away, making it a 10-point game with 7:12 remaining in the contest, making it a question of whether the visitors had enough juice to pull off a comeback, assuming the hosts ran out of gas.
Heading into the games stretch run, the Bulls couldnt make up enough ground to seriously challenge Washington, which played stout enough defense and made enough timely shots to keep the visitors at bay, despite Robinsons virtuoso scoring efforts and Noahs yeoman-like performance on the glass and as a playmaker, as well as extended pressure by the team on the defensive end of the floor.
As it finally became apparent that the Bulls wouldnt be able to make the comeback, Thibodeau inserted deep reserves like rookie Marquis Teague and backup center Nazr Mohammed, putting an end to a rough night.