John Wall

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.

Predicting the 2017 NBA All-Star Game reserves

Predicting the 2017 NBA All-Star Game reserves

All-Star reserves will be announced on Thursday night, but we're here to give you what we believe the rosters should look like. Let's get into it.

Eastern Conference

Guard: Kyle Lowry, Raptors: DeMar DeRozan has rightfully garnered accolades for his phenomenal season, but Lowry deserves heaps of credit, too. In leading the NBA's second most efficient offense, Lowry has averaged career-highs in points (22.3), field goal percentage (46.7%) and 3-point field goal percentage (42.2%) on 7.5 attempts per game. His defense has been superb this year and, DeRozan included, is the main reason the Raptors are just three games back of the Cavs in the East.

Guard: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics: Given Thomas' stature, the 5-foot-9 point guard is turning in perhaps one of the greatest scoring campaigns in recent memory. Thomas has averaged 28.9 points, trailing only Russell Westbrook's 30.8 points (Thomas is taking four fewer shots per game) and has still managed career-highs in assists (6.2). The Celtics have dealt with injuries to Al Horford, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder, but Thomas has remained a constant. He's also scoring in the clutch, as his 10.0 points per fourth quarter lead the league.

Frontcourt: Kevin Love, Cavaliers: Seemingly left for dead with the Cavs after the Warriors took a 3-1 lead in last year's Finals, Love has been great in his third season in Cleveland. He's taken a back seat to LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, but he's nearly averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds and is taking and making more 3-pointers than ever before. He's on pace to become the second player ever to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and two 3-pointers per game (Love also accomplished this in 2013-14). The other? Russell Westbrook, this season.

Frontcourt: Paul George, Pacers: George hasn't been spectacular by his own standards, but even his standard year makes him a sure bet to earn a fourth All-Star berth. He has seen his field goal percentage bump up to 45 percent, the best mark since his rookie season, and he's got the underwhelming Pacers at .500 to date. George is also leading the league in free-throw percentage (92.6 percent), which would rank in the top-30 all-time for a single season. The more you know.

Frontcourt: Paul Millsap, Hawks: He flies under the radar as well as any star in the league, but there aren't too many other players as complete as Millsap. Elected to the All-Star Game in each of the last three seasons, Millsap is averaging 17.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks in 34.0 minutes. The only other players in the league to reach those thresholds in each category are James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Russell Westbrook. In a weak "frontcourt" pool, Millsap's a lock to get in again.

Wild-card: John Wall, Wizards: This may come as a surprise because of how quiet the buzz around has been, but Wall is having a historically great season. Check these numbers: Wall is averaging 23.1 points, 10.1 assists and a league-best 2.2 steals. The list of players to average 23/10/2 in a single season? Russell Westbrook last year, and Michael Adams in 1991. That's it. He's also resurrected the Wizards from the dead after a 2-8 start, and Washington has gone 23-12 since and sits in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Wild-card: Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers: This was a tough call between Irving and Kemba Walker, but Uncle Drew gets the nod on his fourth All-Star bid. Irving has been a terror on the offensive end this season, averaging 24.5 points on 47 percent shooting and 5.6 assists, nearly a full dime more than he did during last year's injury-plagued campaign. He's shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc and is flirting with 90 percent from the stripe. Oh, and he's running the show for the best team in the East.

Western Conference

Guard: Russell Westbrook, Thunder: Surprised, right? Look, James Harden was a lock to start, and Stephen Curry has been magnificent. But there really isn't any argument to keep Westbrook out of the starting lineup. He's averaging 30.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists, has 22 triple-doubles and has the Thunder - left for dead when Kevin Durant bolted - sixth in the West. Talk about his lack of efficiency all you want, Westbrook deserved to start. Alas, he'll have to settle for being the surest lock in the history of the league.

Guard: Klay Thompson, Warriors: This one may seem like a surprise, given he's the fourth best player on his team. But Thompson has been great in his sixth NBA season. The 40 percent from deep he's shooting is a career-worst and the 53 percent from inside the arc is a career-best. He's proven to be much more than a 3-point specialist, and it doesn't hurt that he's a plus defender capable of guarding multiple positions. Plus, he scored 60 points in 29 minutes against the Pacers earlier this season. That alone should get him in.

Frontcourt: DeMarcus Cousins, Kings: Another no-brainer, and someone who would have started were the three frontcourt starters not future Hall-of-Famers. Cousins has been a one-man show in Sacramento, and what a show it's been. Cousins is averaging 28.0 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Those numbers haven't been posted since David Robinson in 1993-94 (Russell Westbrook is also doing it this season), and then Larry Bird in 1984-85 before that. Cousins is a lock.

Frontcourt: Rudy Gobert, Jazz: The Jazz have dealt with significant injuries to George Hill, Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors this season, and yet they're somehow 29-18 and just one game back of the No. 4 spot in the West. Gobert is the reason why. A leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, he's averaging 12.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, in addition to shooting 66 percent from the field. His most important stat? He's played in all 47 of the Jazz's games.

Frontcourt: Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves: Despite the Timberwolves struggling under Tom Thibodeau, Towns has taken his game to another level. Still just 21 years old, he's averaging 22.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. The only other 21-year-old to reach those numbers was Shaquille O'Neal (who also did it when he was 20). The numbers are great, but it's the eye test that really does it for Towns. The way he moves, the way he affects the game, and his consistency are all so impressive. There's an argument against him earning an All-Star bid, but he's played well enough to get in.

Wild-card: Draymond Green, Warriors: The engine that makes the super-power Warriors offense go, Green has turned in yet another fantastic season. His role has diminished some offensively with Kevin Durant in the fold (his FGA, FTA and points are all down) but he's still ultra-efficient, and his defense remains as good as ever. The Warriors are good offensively, yes. But they're also No. 1 in defensive efficiency, and Green is the main reason why. He could very well win Defensive Player of the Year.

Wild-card: Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers: This spot would have belonged to Chris Paul, who is expected to miss the All-Star Game with a thumb injury. In his place is Lillard, everyone's favorite All-Star snub. The Blazers have arguably been the league's biggest disappointment in 2016-17, but Lillard has done just about everything he can to right the ship. His 26.2 points are a career-best, and he's doing so while sharing a backcourt with the talented C.J. McCollum. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol or LaMarcus Aldridge would be fine choices here, but in a rough season in Portland, Lillard has shined.

With no Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, opportunity available for younger Bulls

With no Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade, opportunity available for younger Bulls

WASHINGTON, D.C.— Absence often creates opportunity, which means there will be a lot of opportunity for a few Bulls Tuesday night with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade out against the Washington Wizards.

The Bulls’ two leading scorers will be out, with Butler still recovering from the flu and Wade on a scheduled rest.

“Coach said I’m out tomorrow,” Wade said at his locker following the Bulls’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night at the United Center.

With two more sets of back-to-backs this month, Wade and Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg have agreed to a plan for his usage. Sitting Wade for the second night in this first set — while also having a game Thursday night in New York for a three-game, four-night set — seems to be the prudent approach for a man who turns 35 this month.

It just so happens to coincide with Butler being all but useless against the Thunder Monday, barely able to muster up much of an athletic effort while fighting off illness. Butler didn’t make the trip to the nation’s capital but the Bulls hope he’ll join the team in New York.

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“When you see guys fighting through stuff, you really appreciate it,” Wade said. “’Be smart’, that’s my message to him. We need him to be healthy. We need him to take care of himself.”

While the Bulls are without 43 percent of their scoring, it means Jerian Grant, Denzel Valentine and Isaiah Canaan will see opportunity against a Wizards team that used strong second halves from John Wall and Bradley Beal to beat the Bulls by 10 in Chicago.

“I’ve been telling the young guys, just be ready,” Taj Gibson said. “Next man up. Just giving them as much encouragement as you can. Jimmy played his heart out, tried his best. But we have to be better.”

As for Rajon Rondo, Hoiberg didn’t dismiss the possibility of playing him but never really dismisses the possibility of playing him — but Rondo hasn’t played in the last six games, with the Bulls going 4-2 in that stretch.

The front office has a lot invested in some of the younger players, so it wouldn’t be surprising for them to get an extended look.

“That’s the first thing when young guys look at me,” Gibson said. “We have more than enough to win. We always thugged it out. If you go in with the right mindset, first you’ll learn from it and then confidence will come.”