CHICAGO — It’s only nearing the halfway point in the season, but the Washington Wizards have managed to send a message to the rest of the Eastern Conference.
A day after beating the defending NBA-champion San Antonio Spurs at home, the Wizards beat one of the East’s top teams on the road, downing the Chicago Bulls 105-99 on Wednesday night at the United Center.
Led by guard Paul Pierce (22 points) and guard John Wall (21 points, 9 assists), the Wizards (27-12) overcame a 50-44 halftime deficit with a big second-half effort. Guard Bradley Beal added 17 points, forward Nene had 13 and center Marcin Gortat finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. All five Wizards starters scored in double figures.
“It was important for us,” Beal said. “We say we want to be this elite team. We say we want to be one of the best teams in the East and you have to be able to beat a team (that) is also elite on a back-to-back. That really speaks a lot for our team and for us individually.”
Point guard Derrick Rose led all scorers with 32 points for the Bulls (26-14), who coughed up a 50-44 halftime lead and were outscored 61-49 in the second half. It was Chicago’s second straight loss, third straight at home and the fourth in the Windy City in their past five games here.
“Whoever steps on the floor is supposed to do their job,” said Rose, who scored 17 points in the first quarter, including a half-court heave that just beat the horn. “We just didn’t find that recipe yet defensively. No excuses. The nucleus of this team has been together for a long time, so I wouldn’t say (we’re) fatigued. Everybody’s tired by this time. It’s just that defensively we’ve got to give a little more effort.”
Forward Pau Gasol and guard Jimmy Butler scored 13 points each for the Bulls, and reserve forwards Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic each scored 12.
Washington beat the Bulls for the second time in less than a week after winning 102-86 on Jan. 9 in the nation’s capital. The Wizards did it, primarily, by taking better care of the ball in the second half. After committing 12 turnovers in the first half, they only gave it up on three possessions in the final two quarters — including one in the third, when they seized control of the game by outscoring the Bulls 32-19.
“I was really pleased with the way we played the first half, but those 12 turnovers hurt us,” Washington coach Randy Wittman said. “We didn’t get discouraged, though, even when (Rose) got off. We still contested shots. At halftime we talked about giving ourselves a chance to get a shot every time down the floor. We did that with one turnover in the third quarter and scored 32 points.”
Chicago, which played the second half without center Joakim Noah because of an ankle injury, cut a seven-point deficit to 83-82 midway through the fourth quarter on a dunk by Gibson. The Wizards responded with a 12-3 run, led by Pierce and Wall, for a 95-85 lead the Bulls couldn’t overcome.
Pierce and Gortat came through in the third. Pierce scored 11 points and Gortat added 10, as the Wizards (14 of 24, 58.3 percent) shot 22 percentage points higher from the field than the Bulls (7 of 19, 36.8 percent).
Pierce’s 3-pointer with 8:30 left in the third quarter capped an 11-3 run to give Washington a 55-53 lead, which was the first time the Wizards led since midway through the first quarter. They never trailed again.
“We have to be better,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “That is our reality. We have to figure it out. It is tough to build continuity when you have guys in and out (of the lineup). We have to deal with it and we still have to find ways to win. We can’t hang our heads and we can’t make excuses.
NOTES: Bulls rookie F Doug McDermott is nearing a return from a right knee injury. “He’s pretty close,” Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. “(He’s) doing just about everything on the court now, so right now we just want to make sure the next day he’s fine.” McDermott missed his 23rd game on Wednesday. … Bulls F Mike Dunleavy missed his seventh straight game with a right ankle sprain. … Washington is 22-1 when holding teams below 100 points. … Wizards G Paul Pierce hit 2-of-7 from behind the 3-point line and passed Jason Kidd for fourth all time in made 3-pointers (1,989).
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