Michael Wilbon’s columns get sadder every time the Wizards beat the Bulls


(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

Few people have as interesting a link to this Wizards-Bulls series as Michael Wilbon, a man who covered the Wizards for years and years at The Post, but who’s rooted for the Bulls for even longer as a Chicago native.

Wilbon is now columnizing about this series for ESPN.com, and his five columns (one on each game, plus one series preview) tell an interesting tale of optimism dashed and confidence shattered. Let’s review:

1. Wizards the ideal matchup for Bulls
Through its play and a little luck, Chicago has a promising East playoff path ahead

The Bulls couldn’t have gotten a better draw, even to the point of getting a Washington Wizards team that won the regular-season series 2-1. The Wizards want the Bulls in the playoffs, set their sights on them the last few weeks of the season as they moved from seventh to fifth. The Wizards aren’t shy about their feelings toward the Bulls, that they can’t score enough to get in a high-octane battle, that they can’t stay in front of Wall and Beal, that the Bulls physically just aren’t as good as the Wizards.

And that’s just the kind of team the Bulls should eat for lunch in a seven-game playoff series, a team whose best two players haven’t navigated the intensity of the playoffs, a team that thinks offense is somehow going to rule the day in the postseason….Team defense — the Bulls rank No. 1 in that department among playoff teams in games against other playoff teams — ought to slow the Wizards enough for the Bulls to win in six games.

2. Time short for Bulls to snap out of it
List of adjustments for Game 2 is lengthy after perplexing showing vs. Wizards

It’s something of a stunner when the team that always demonstrates a sense of urgency looks emotionally empty in Game 1 of the playoffs. When the team that knows it has to rebound doesn’t. When the team that knows it has to move bodies and the ball to generate offense doesn’t. When the team that knows its calling card is defense doesn’t play much of it. It’s not often in the Tom Thibodeau era that the Bulls are a flat-out disappointment, but they were in their 102-93 Game 1 loss to the Wizards….

So much for the Wizards being inexperienced in the context of the NBA playoffs.

3. Wanted: A scorer at crunch time
After their offensive drought in Game 2, it’s clear what the Bulls need

It’s the 12 minutes that ought to drive Bulls management to extreme action in an offseason coming sooner than any of them expected….Two straight games playing at home the Bulls couldn’t get a basket when they needed one, and now they’re halfway to summer.

The Wizards knew in their hearts this would be the case when they hustled from seventh place to fifth in the final days of the season to chase a first-round matchup with the Bulls. They knew they could smother D.J. Augustin defensively with Trevor Ariza. They knew two of the most polished offensive players the Bulls have, Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, are usually affixed to the bench in the fourth quarter because of their defensive deficiencies. The Wizards knew the Bulls routinely go six minutes, eight minutes, 10 minutes without being able to score a basket….

[The Bulls] need points and they know by now they have no place to turn for enough of them. Worst of all for the Bulls, the Wizards know that, too.

4. Dunleavy, Bulls ratchet up intrigue
Veteran’s huge Game 3 brings Chicago back from the edge against Wizards

There’s no telling what will happen from here, what with the availability of Nene in question after an early fourth-quarter confrontation that got him ejected….Who knows what’s possible now that the availability of Nene is uncertain?

5. Reality sinking in for Bulls
Wizards have proven physically superior to Chicago — and more talented, quicker

There comes a point in most every playoff series when both teams know who’s better. Bulls-Wizards pretty much reached that point four minutes into Game 4, when Washington’s Trevor Ariza hit a 3-pointer to give the Wizards a two-touchdown lead at 14-0….

The Wizards have evolved to a point of athletic arrogance at which they know they’re better than the opponent, meaning there’s nothing the Bulls can do about certain physical realities….

The Wizards figured out between Games 3 and 4 that despite Friday night’s loss they are the physically superior team, that they can guard the Bulls but the Bulls cannot guard them, and that if they come out and seize the lead, there isn’t much the Bulls can do about it….The Bulls need a Wizards meltdown or an afternoon of absentmindedness to win the next two games and force a Game 7. If the two sides play evenly, the Wizards will win.

So to recap, in a bit more than a week we went from “that’s just the kind of team the Bulls should eat for lunch” to “if the two sides play evenly, the Wizards will win.”

(Via @Hokie_Wartooth)

Dan Steinberg writes about all things DC sports at the DC Sports Bog.
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