Wizards-Bulls Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated December 29, 2012
Coming off an unexpected extended break, the Chicago Bulls are hoping to be a bit healthier as they try to bounce back from a pair of poor performances. Hosting the NBA-worst Washington Wizards should also help. The Bulls hope to have both Richard Hamilton and Luol Deng back Saturday night against a Wizards team coming off its first victory in nine games. Chicago (15-12) hasn't played since Tuesday after Wednesday's game versus Indiana was postponed by a snowstorm that slammed the Indianapolis area. The extra time off has given Hamilton and Deng a chance to heal. Hamilton has missed the last 12 games with a sprained left foot after averaging 13.9 points in starting the first 15. The 14-year veteran has returned to practice and is expected to be a game-time decision. Deng's status also likely will be determined shortly before tip-off after he injured his right ankle in the Bulls' Christmas game against Houston. He has started all 27 contests, averaging a team-high 17.7 points and ranking third in rebounds at 7.0 per game. Although Deng went to the bench early Tuesday, he wasn't the only starter to sit out most of the fourth quarter. With his team trailing by as many as 35, coach Tom Thibodeau went to his bench and the Bulls wound up losing 120-97. It was the second straight lopsided defeat for Chicago, which was down by as many as 26 in last Saturday's 92-75 loss in Atlanta. "If you are not right and don't have an edge, you are not going to win without the right amount of intensity," Thibodeau said after the Rockets shot an opponent season-high 56.1 percent and racked up the most points scored against the Bulls since Nov. 4, 2010. It was an uncharacteristic performance by Chicago, which ranks among the league leaders in scoring defense (92.1 per game) and defensive field goal percentage (43.1). The Bulls would seem to have a good chance to regroup against a Wizards team that averages a league-low 89.2 points, though Washington coach Randy Wittman believes his club will have an advantage. "They're going to be rusty. That's good for us," he said after Friday's 105-97 home victory over Orlando. "We've got to win. We're feeling good. We played well. Let's play again. I don't worry about Chicago." Despite its offensive struggles, Washington (4-23) showed some signs of life against the Magic in winning for the first time since Dec. 11. The Wizards shot 47.7 percent - their third-best mark of the season - and overcame a 17-point deficit to snap an eight-game losing streak. "Obviously, a lot of satisfaction in the win, but the way we won it - with what this team's gone through at the start of the year, to go down 25-8 ... for our guys to not put their heads down and grind it out," Wittman said. Nene had season highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds and Jordan Crawford, coming off the bench for a second straight game, matched a season high with 27 points while going 11 of 16 from the floor. In his last six games, Crawford is averaging 21.8 points - 5.8 better than his team-leading average. The Wizards, 1-12 away from the nation's capital, haven't faced the Bulls since an 87-84 win in Chicago on April 16, a game both Deng and Derrick Rose sat out. That snapped Washington's seven-game losing streak in the series and also ended its six-game skid at the United Center. While the Bulls hope Hamilton and Deng can provide a spark offensively, getting Joakim Noah involved also seems crucial. Chicago is 11-2 when Noah, who averages 13.3 points, scores at least 12.
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