After sensing and seizing the urgency in their first game after the All-Star break, the Chicago Bulls will try to maintain the momentum Sunday as they host the Washington Wizards.
Chicago built the second 50-point lead in the NBA this season en route to Friday’s 131-87 home rout of the Brooklyn Nets, snapping a six-game skid.
Coupled with the Wizards’ loss to the New York Knicks earlier Friday, the Bulls moved within 1 1/2 games of Washington for the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, entering play Saturday.
“That’s the way we have to come out,” said Chicago’s DeMar DeRozan. “Now Sunday, another challenge against a team that is right above us. Every single game, we’ve got to treat it like a Game 7. We’ve got to be the desperate ones. … That’s what we did tonight and we’ve just got to carry it over.”
Zach LaVine paced the Bulls with 32 points while DeRozan added 17, as starters rested for much of the fourth quarter.
Chicago native Patrick Beverley, signed during the All-Star break following a contract buyout from Orlando, contributed eight points, five rebounds and four assists in his Bulls debut. The team was equally appreciative, though, of the veteran’s energy and defensive communication.
“Pat has a really, really good feel as a veteran guy of what’s going on out there from that position,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “He can tell who’s got a shot, who’s got it going, what they are doing defensively. He’s a bright guy who’s been around a long time and knows how to manage the situation.
“I didn’t know what it would look like, but I thought our team needed just a jolt.”
Kristaps Porzingis provided an early spark for Washington on Friday, scoring 19 first-quarter points while making all five of his 3-point attempts.
The host Wizards eventually built a 19-point lead on the Knicks but were unable to hang on, ending a two-game winning streak.
Washington has squandered 10 double-digit leads this season.
The Wizards’ Monte Morris said that’s “been our trend all year,” citing the team’s occasional lapse in defensive intensity once leads grow.
How can Washington fix the issue?
“Just keep playing with pace,” said Kyle Kuzma, who matched Porzingis with 23 points against the Knicks. “I think a lot of times in the couple of games we’ve had big leads, we just put our foot off the gas and we’re not playing as hard on both ends.
“We’re just giving them points and we’re just taking it and not doing anything to punch back. It’s definitely frustrating, it’s very tough, but we’ve got to figure it out. There’s no crying on the yacht.”
Washington is seeking to clinch the season series against Chicago. Doing so would require the first road win between the foes this season. The Wizards’ two victories against Chicago both came at home, with the Bulls sandwiching a home victory between them.
The teams’ three games to date have been decided by nine combined points.
Chicago has won seven of the past 10 meetings.
–Field Level Media