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Recap: Shorthanded Wizards loose back-and-forth matchup in Chicago

Coming into Wednesday evening’s game in Chicago, the Wizards had lost six of their last seven games and were hungry for success. This one was hard-fought throughout and the Wizards had some brilliant moments, but ultimately, the Bulls were able to hang on by a final score of 115-111.

Due to a variety of reasons including injuries, COVID protocols, and G League assignments, Washington only had 10 available players in Chicago and they used all of them. Nine of the 10 scored at least four points, and five reached double digits.

Without Bradley Beal, the offense struggled in the first quarter, and it was tough for them to get things going in the halfcourt. They only put up 22 points in the opening frame, but as the game wore on, the offense started to find its groove. The Wizards put up 27 points in the second quarter, but had plenty of opportunities to score more.

At the end of the first half, the Wizards found themselves down 52-49. A big reason they were able to keep things close was their perimeter defense. They made life miserable for the Bulls’ two best players, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan, who combined for 14 points on 6-of-17 shooting from the field in the first half.

In the second half, things opened up for both sides. Deni Avdija and Kyle Kuzma both did a great job of attacking the rim and putting pressure on the Bulls’ interior defense. Avdija was solid, finishing the night with 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field to go along with six assists, five rebounds, four steals, and zero turnovers. Kuzma was productive in his own right, scoring 21 points and adding five boards.

Plus, Kristaps Porzingis found his rhythm, scoring around the basket and getting to the free-throw line. He finished the night with a team-high 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field and 12-of-16 shooting from the free-throw line to go along with nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks, and two steals .

By the end of the third quarter, the Wizards had clawed back in front, taking an 81-80 lead. Prior to this game, the Wizards were 9-0 when leading after three quarters. Unfortunately, that streak would end in Chicago.

In the fourth quarter, DeRozan and LaVine went off. Their tough first halves were forgotten about in a heartbeat as they combined for 28 points in the final period, including some incredible and timely shotmaking. Thankfully, the shotmaking was solid for the Wizards as well, and some key lineup maneuvers from Wizards head coach Wes Unseld Jr. helped keep them in the game.

Unseld Jr. leaned heavily on lineups featuring two bigs. At various times throughout the game, Daniel Gafford was paired with either Taj Gibson or Porzingis, and those lineups dominated. They rebounded the ball well both offensively and defensively, and they protected the rim wonderfully. The two-big lineups were a major reason the Wizards were able to pile up 18 STOCKS (steals + blocks).

“It’s good, it’s good,” said Porzingis when asked postgame about the two-big lineup. “I feel like nobody can out-rebound us. Nobody can shoot over us when we were down there. At least one of us is [by the rim] helping our teammates.”

Ultimately, this game came down to the final minute. The Wizards were down four points with about 35 seconds remaining, and the Bulls had the ball. A timely trap forced the Bulls into a bad turnover that led to a Kuzma layup on the other end.

The Wizards were down two. The Bulls had the ball. There were just over 30 seconds left on the clock. The Wizards needed a stop more than ever, and they ended up forcing a miss, but the Bulls crashed the glass and the Wizards couldn’t secure the rebound. The Bulls got the ball back and had a new lease on life with the shot clock turned off. The Wizards were forced to play the foul game, and it didn’t go their way.

Final score: Bulls 115, Wizards 111.

“It’s about the details,” said Porzingis. “Sooner or later, we’ll get it…With every game, we have to go in with a fresh mind and take it as an opportunity and get better. And we’ll get there.”

Next up for the Wizards is a Friday night game against a tough Pacers team in Indiana.

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