The Wizards’ 105-101 win over the Bulls came down to defense again; Washington improved to 6-13 and closed out what Coach Scott Brooks described as one of the strangest stretches of his career. The Wizards split their road trip from Miami through Charlotte and to Chicago 2-2, and the highs were as soaring as the lows bleak.
At least they ended on an upturn.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a stretch like this where, great win — two- or three-point win, last seconds of the game — tough loss, great win, same thing. Three-and-three in the last six,” Brooks said, describing the Wizards’ roller coaster of a week. “What we’ve gone through, I’m not usually fired up about 3-3, but we’ve gone through a lot, and our guys battled back.”
Washington held the struggling Bulls (9-14) to 42.4 percent shooting from the field and made big plays when it needed them, including a pair of six-point possessions in the second half that kept Chicago from taking leads.
The Bulls whittled the Wizards’ double-digit lead to one thrice in the second half, the last time on a running floater from Coby White coming out of a timeout to make it 102-101 with 29.2 seconds left. Bradley Beal drew a foul at the other end but missed his first free throw, and the Wizards led by two with 9.8 seconds to play before Len made the defensive play of the game with less than two seconds remaining.
“I just try to jump as vertical as I can and meet [LaVine] just a little bit further from the rim,” said Len, who is 7-foot. “He’s probably the most athletic player in our league. . . . He’s so athletic, he might dunk it. I mean, he’s dunked on me before. You’ve got to meet him a little bit further from the rim because if you give him that little space, he’s too good.”
Beal iced the win with two free throws and led the Wizards with 35 points on 10-for-24 shooting and a 14-for-15 showing at the line.
With Russell Westbrook out for rest, starting forward Rui Hachimura was Beal’s second-in-command all night and got something worth celebrating on his 23rd birthday.
Hachimura had 19 points and 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season, but his highlight-reel moment came with 1:17 left in the third quarter, when he bounced up from where he had been knocked to the floor under the basket, grinned and held his fists aloft.
He had earned his gift — Hachimura had drawn the second charge of his young NBA career, against Bulls forward Patrick Williams, and it was evidence of the strong night he was having on defense.
“Rui don’t take charges,” Beal said afterward, laughing. “. . . Rui’s not a fan of taking charges, respectfully. And I don’t think any man’s going to be super, like, charged up to want to step in front of big bodies like that, but that was a big play tonight. Sacrificed his body for the benefit of the team, and he had a big night tonight. It was his day, for sure. On the floor and off.”
Said Hachimura: “That was a big step for me. Everybody talks about my defense a lot. I don’t think I’m a bad defender. That was a big step for me, for sure.”
The birthday boy wasn’t alone in putting together a complete game. Washington had four scorers in double figures, perhaps in part because of a tweak in the starting lineup on Brooks’s end, and on the defensive end the Wizards did what was needed to keep Chicago in check.
The Bulls, middling on offense as it is, were missing second-leading scorer Lauri Markkanen with a right shoulder injury. LaVine finished with 35 points, but no other Chicago player had more than 14.
Brooks gave Davis Bertans his first start since December 2019 in hopes of “activating” the sharpshooter, who has been largely dormant this season. The forward has struggled with his conditioning all year — Bertans joined the Wizards late because of visa issues returning to Washington from his native Latvia, where he waited out the league’s coronavirus pause and sat out the NBA bubble before signing a five-year, $80 million contract on the first day of free agency ahead of the season.
After struggling to get into game shape through early January, he was one of six players in the league’s coronavirus protocols during the Wizards’ two-week, virus-induced pause.
Brooks hoped inserting him into the starting lineup was one solution to get Bertans more minutes — and opportunities — but in shorter increments.
It worked, for a time: Bertans was shooting a career-low 32.8 percent from three-point range heading into Monday’s game, but he made 4 of 8 from deep in the first half, helping Washington to a 58-48 lead at halftime. He went 0 for 3 and didn’t score a point in the second half.
“The positive,” Beal said, “is we went 2-2 on the road. As tough as it was, covid kicked our butts, but we did a good job bouncing back with the little practice time we had. We’ve still got to be better. There are still games we feel like we could’ve won. We got smacked by 30 twice, back-to-back, so that’s unacceptable. We’ve still got our work cut out.”