By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 6, 2008
CHICAGO, April 5 -- Brendan Haywood grabbed the offensive rebound, threw down a dunk and turned to a group of heckling Chicago Bulls fans and delivered a message.
"They were just talking a little bit of junk," Haywood said. "I just told them, 'Look, man, we're up 19 so just sit down and enjoy the show.' "
That pretty much explains how Haywood and the Wizards dispatched the Bulls with an aggressive and efficient 99-87 victory at United Center.
Without all-star forward Antawn Jamison, who missed his second straight game with a sprained right shoulder, and guard Gilbert Arenas, who was held out as a precautionary measure to rest his surgically repaired left knee, the Wizards (40-37) moved into sole possession of fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one game ahead of Philadelphia.
Washington is two games behind fourth-place Cleveland with five remaining. If they can overtake the Cavaliers, who have dropped two straight at home, the Wizards would finally make LeBron James and company open a first-round series at Verizon Center.
The Cavaliers have parlayed home-court advantage into first-round wins over the Wizards in each of the last two seasons.
With games remaining against Boston, Detroit, Philadelphia, Indiana and Orlando, it won't be easy for the Wizards to catch Cleveland, but anything is possible if they play the kind of basketball they did in dispatching the Bulls.
The performance was epitomized by Haywood, who scored a career-high 25 points along with 10 rebounds and two blocks.
Behind Haywood and Andray Blatche, who came off the bench to snag 10 rebounds and score six points, the Wizards finished with a 53-28 rebounding advantage and blew the game open with a 34-point third quarter.
All-star forward Caron Butler added 18 points and eight rebounds and reserve guard Roger Mason Jr. contributed 14 points as the Wizards shot a crisp 47.6 percent and led by 21 points in the fourth quarter.
Ben Gordon led the Bulls (30-46) with 18 points in a loss that damaged Chicago's fragile playoff hopes.
What made the loss particularly troubling for the home team was the way the Bulls rolled over during the third quarter when the Wizards held a 12-0 edge in second-chance points and a 16-6 advantage in points in the paint.
"They are bigger," Bulls Coach Jim Boylan said. "They are more physical, more experienced. It is not that hard, there is no secret to it. Haywood has always bothered us. In every playoff series and every regular season game, he has always had an effect on us because of his size around the basket."
The plan for Arenas is for him to play no more than 20 to 25 minutes per game, and he will be closely monitored on a daily basis. Because the Wizards were playing on a second straight night, the decision was made to have him sit out.
The cautious approach stands in sharp contrast to how he was handled at the beginning of the season, when he averaged nearly 40 minutes per game and played in two sets of back-to-backs before going down following a win at Minnesota on Nov. 16.
"The training staff looked at him and they're going to be real, real delicate with Gilbert," said Mike O'Koren, the associate head coach, who addressed the media before and after the game in place of Coach Eddie Jordan, who is battling the flu. "He's coming back from an injury and he looked fine: he's obviously in great shape, great condition for being out that long and it's purely precautionary. He'll back at practice Monday and Tuesday and be ready to go on Wednesday."
Arenas, who contradicted himself on numerous occasions in the lead up to his long-awaited return, has suddenly gone silent. He hasn't spoken with reporters in several days and as of Wednesday night, had not updated his NBA.com blog, so his views on not playing Saturday night are a mystery.
"He never wants to come out of a game, especially when he was healthy," said O'Koren, who has been on Jordan's staff since Arenas arrived prior to the 2003-04 season. "And we never really wanted to take him out of the game. But he understands and maybe I shouldn't say this but, coming back and then getting hurt again, he really understands what is going on right now. I applaud his maturity and work ethic to get back here."