The Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls remain in pursuit of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Tuesday’s game at Capital One Arena, but reaching postseason position likely will require the ability to conquer a struggle that has plagued both teams this season.
Washington led visiting Memphis by 12 points Sunday and had a five-point edge entering the fourth quarter. That advantage quickly evaporated as the Wizards shot 4-for-25 (15.4 percent) in the fourth quarter while the Grizzlies closed the game on a 22-8 run en route to a 106-99 win.
“Sometimes we come down and we can’t get stops, and we can’t make shots either,” Washington guard Bradley Beal, who led the Wizards with 26 points, told reporters after the game. “So, it’s like something’s got to give.”
On Sunday, that something sure wasn’t Grizzlies rookie sensation Ja Morant, who scored 10 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and finished with his first career triple-double.
“I think Ja Morant just took it over in the end,” Wizards forward Davis Bertans said. “We didn’t stop him.”
The Wizards and Bulls sit in ninth and 10th place, respectively, but are headed in opposite directions as the All-Star break looms. While Washington has won three of five, Chicago is on a five-game losing streak, one defeat away from matching a season-high skid.
Chicago rallied from an early double-digit deficit on Sunday in Philadelphia to tie the score after three quarters. Then the familiar stretch-run woes resurfaced.
The Bulls fell 118-111 but were encouraged by a resilient, 32-point effort from leading scorer Zach LaVine. After missing Saturday’s practice with neck stiffness, LaVine overlooked the lack of a Sunday team shootaround and went to Wells Fargo Center early Sunday morning to test the injury.
LaVine, who had averaged 21 points on 39.6 percent shooting in his five games before Sunday, reached 30 points for the 16th time this season while shooting 11-for-21.
“His habits are really good,” Bulls coach Jim Boylen said.
“It speaks to his growth, his wanting to be a primary guy and performing as a primary guy even when you don’t feel well. That’s what big-time guys do. And I thought he did it. If you had saw the way he looked and how he was moving to how he fought through (Sunday), it was a great thing for us and a great thing for him.”
With several teammates plagued by numerous injuries during the first half of the season, LaVine and Tomas Satoransky are the only Bulls to start each of the team’s 54 games. Rookie reserve Coby White has appeared in each game, as well.
“Obviously, it hurts, but I felt pretty good out there,” LaVine said. “And once adrenaline gets going … I’m good, man. I don’t like missing games.”
The Wizards will be looking to snap out of their recent struggles against the Bulls, and do have some positive momentum from a couple of players. Rui Hachimura has scored in double figures in three straight games since returning from a groin injury, and center Luke Kornet is coming off a career-high 25 points against Philadelphia.
Washington is 0-2 against Chicago this season, with the losses coming by a combined 10 points — including a one-point decision in overtime at Capital One Arena in the nation’s capital on Dec. 18. The teams are slated to conclude their season series on Feb. 23 at the United Center.
The Bulls have won four in a row and five of six against the Wizards, with no game decided by more than nine points.
–Field Level Media