WASHINGTON – The Bulls’ second half of the season started out no different than the first.
A winnable road game in Washington has turned into another loss that Chicago will look back on in a few months, wondering what it might have been.
But there was no mistaking what happened Wednesday in the Bulls’ 100-97 defeat. Against a short-handed Wizards team without superstars Bradley Bell and Kristaps Porzingis, the Bulls allowed Washington to hang around and build up the right momentum and confidence to steal the game. The Wizards did so by outsmarting and outrunning the Bulls before outscoring them 54-38 in the second half. Including the game changing quarter 41-21.
Chicago led by 13 points at the end of the first half, but play through that point was worn out and the contest felt like an accident waiting to happen. The Bulls allowed the Wizards to grab seven offensive rebounds and score 13 second chance points in the first half. Their saving grace was that Washington shot 1-for-9 on 3s during that span. You knew the bulls would be in trouble if the witches caught fire. And right away, they made 5 of 7 three-pointers in the third quarter and scored 11 points from five turnovers for the Bulls. Washington executed 17 of 23 shots (73.9 percent) in this period.
“I think we have to get rid of them when we have … a certain momentum,” said Bulls guard Zach LaVine. “I think we gave them confidence. They did a good job of holding on to the game. Give them credit, obviously, for making shots and making plays. But given they’ve lost so many of their buddies and we’ve lost one of us, we should be able to put this game away. We let them hang around for a long time.” They got hot, and they stopped. Then we left it to Kyle (Kuzma) and he hits a hard shot at the end. And then you have to be perfect.”
DeMar DeRozan, the Bulls’ leading scorer, missed his first game with a right quadruple injury that the team doesn’t think will last. In his absence, different heroes should appear in the fourth quarter.
Kuzma rose for the sorcerers. He hit the green pointer for the final score of the game with 5.7 seconds remaining. It was a bold move 3 from the right wing on Alex Caruso and Nikola Vucevic. Kuzma’s killing shot was followed by a miraculous triple catch and field goal by LaVine off an inside pass that he only had a second to press before the shot clock was violated.
However, Chicago had a chance to tie it up.
With the bullpen three down, however, LaVine relieved himself past the 3-point line and pulled up for the midrange jumper. Suppose he was fouled, and replays showed Wizards guard Dillon Wright pointing to the ground as if to alert the official that the no-contact foul was delivered on the ground instead of shooting. It was initially a confusing play that made it seem as if Lavigne had lost track of it, but he didn’t.
“Rodney (Mott) said he missed it,” Lavigne said of the official’s crew chief. “And that’s it. I could have driven deep from 3. But as soon as I got in and he tried to catch me, I just tried to throw the ball up.”
Lavigne also said that Wright admitted his gratuitous abuse.
“They were deliberately trying to make a mistake,” Levine said. “He looked at me and said, I get you. So — but you leave it to the things in the air right now and to call those things. You don’t want to be in that situation.”
Unfortunately for the bulls, it has become commonplace.
On Thursday afternoon, the NBA will release its latest two-minute report announcing accurate and inaccurate calls on the stretch within three points. It’s possible that Wright will admit to making a mistake on LaVine. Although a correct call would not have resulted in a Bulls win, the franchise has been on the wrong end of incorrect calls three times this season that would have awarded the Bulls victories had they been called correctly.
“There are plays throughout the game that can go either way, not just in the final two minutes,” said LaVine. “I think, obviously, you want those calls to go your way. But you can’t bet on it. You’d rather win without getting a last two-minute report. I’d rather win by six or seven points and not have to look at the last two-minute report. But this is basketball. It sucks. It can go either way. That’s how it is.”
Chicago had a lot it could control. The Bulls committed 12 of their 19 errors in the first 16-and-a-half minutes. At one point in the first half, the free-throw disparity in Washington’s favor was 16-2. The final score was 21-9, Washington. Unlike the last play, the official got the wrong calls on the right of the bullpen. They weren’t that hard. Players repeatedly reached out and left their feet on the fake pumps, only for the foul jump shooters. Backup center Andre Drummond, the final captain of the offending crew, committed five fouls in eight minutes, rendering him ineffective.
“The rebounding really hurt us, and the fouling really hurt us,” said Bulls coach Billy Donovan.
Over time, these types of losses will result in huge losses as well.
Add short-term handlers to the list of bad bulls’ losses. After going 8-3 prior to this two-game trip, the Bulls thought they had turned the corner and put these performances behind them. But not so fast. Wednesday’s loss joined heavy losses against Orlando, Houston, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Minnesota without Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert.
“I don’t think we ever have the luxury as a team to look at who’s in or out,” Donovan said. “We’re not doing that. We have to be able to play at a level and a level.
“The disappointing part, the frustrating part, whatever the word is, is that we know what it is and we all have to work it out, myself included.”
(Photo by Zach Lavigne and Kyle Kuzma Wizards, left, and Denny Avdeja: Tony Quinn/Seba via The Associated Press)