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Bulls rout Wizards in possible playoff preview

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WASHINGTON — Thanks to a dominant defensive effort and a rocking first half, the Chicago Bulls avenged two previous losses this season by rolling the Washington Wizards 96-78 Saturday.

Whether the outcomes serves as a viable playoff preview should the Eastern Conference foes collide in a first round matchup, time will tell.

Not that anyone on the Bulls’ side claimed to be thinking about the postseason just yet. For the Wizards, their coach hopes his squad doesn’t soon forget the taste of this unwanted result.

Guard D.J. Augustin scored 25 points, center Joakim Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds as the Bulls used a dominant first half to win their fifth straight game.

Augustin made six 3-pointers and Noah recorded his fifth straight double-double for the Bulls (45-32), who led by 28 points in the first half and 52-26 at halftime.

“We lost to these guys at home. We lost to them here. It was just getting this win tonight,” Augustin said. “We’re not looking forward to the playoffs just yet, but we wanted to come out tonight and do it for ourselves.”

Chicago, which remains tied with the Toronto Raptors for third place in the Eastern Conference, outscored Washington 16-4 during the opening nine minutes of the second quarter. The Raptors won 102-98 at the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

“We wanted to throw the first punch tonight, and I think we did a good job with that tonight,” Noah said. “In the beginning of the game, we were the more aggressive team. Usually, the most aggressive team wins.”

Forward Carlos Boozer scored 16 points for the Bulls in their first victory in three tries over the Wizards this season. Chicago has won an Eastern Conference best 33 games since Jan.1.

Washington pulled within 72-61 during a third quarter push only to see the Bulls counter. Noah scored the next seven points and Augustin’s sixth 3-pointer capped a 19-4 run as Chicago led 91-65 with 6:37 remaining in the series finale.

Guard John Wall scored 20 points and center Marcin Gortat had 19 for the Wizards (40-36), who had won two straight and four of five. Washington shot 3 of 16 on its 3-point attempts.

The sixth place Wizards are now only one game ahead of the Charlotte Bobcats and fell 2 1/2 games behind the Brooklyn Nets, 105-101 winners over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

The Bobcats, who visit Washington on Wednesday, downed the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-94 in overtime.

“They flat-out beat us,” said Wizards guard Bradley Beal, who scored 14 points. “There are no excuses, no way around it. It was never close.”

The Bulls and Wizards played on Friday and then traveled to Washington. Only the home team labored in the back-to-back scenario.

Augustin went 2 of 8 on shots inside the arc, but 6 of 11 on 3-point tries.

After shooting 2 of 14 from the field in Chicago’s win over Milwaukee, Noah sank 9 of 13 attempts. The Bulls outrebounded Washington 27-16 in the first half.

The Wizards missed all eight of their 3-point attempts, went 0 of 4 from the free throw line and shot 31 percent from the field en route to their season-low points in for a first half before the crowd of 19,661.

The Bulls’ stingy defense helped lead to the struggles, and to a teachable scenario about maintaining intensity for Randy Wittman.

“We beat them twice. We know we can beat them. We didn’t tonight,” the Wizards coach said. “They were the better team. There is no question about that.

“Sometimes you can gain things from losing a game like this and that’s what I want out guys to do.”

Augustin’s scoring outburst helped with giving Chicago a massive lead. He tallied 14 points in the second quarter and sank four from beyond the arc in the first half.

The Wizards previously won 102-88 on Jan. 13 in Chicago and 96-93 at home four days later.

Both victories came shortly after the Bulls traded forward Luol Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers and with power forward Nene (sprained left MCL) in Washington’s lineup.

Asked to compare the Bulls now to the squad in January, Noah said, “Yeah, our team is better. We’ve gone through a lot. We’re playing good basketball. We’re confident and we’re ready for these playoffs.”

NOTES: Wizards F Trevor Ariza, who was under the weather for a second straight game, scored two points on 1 of 9 shooting. …The Wizards recalled rookie G Glen Rice Jr. from the Iowa Energy of the NBA’s Developmental League on Saturday. Selected 35th overall in the 2013 Draft, Rice averaged 17.2 in 19 games over two stints with Iowa. He previously played in 11 games for the Wizards, averaging 2.9 points. … On Saturday, the Utah Jazz claimed rookie F Erik Murphy, waived by the Bulls earlier this week. … Chicago next plays at the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, the same day Washington hosts the Charlotte Bobcats.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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