Healthier Bulls gain ground, beat Wizards 95-87

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WASHINGTON (AP)—Luol Deng(notes) was back on the court. Joakim Noah(notes) was back in the starting lineup. Derrick Rose(notes), James Johnson(notes) and Kirk Hinrich(notes) were toughing it out.

That’s the sort of status report the Chicago Bulls need if they’re going to be a playoff team.

The healthier but still ailing Bulls pulled away in the fourth quarter Friday night for a 95-87 victory over the Washington Wizards, moving within 1 1/2 games of the idle Toronto Raptors for the eighth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference.

“James is battling through it. Kirk obviously is battling through it. And Luol gave us—we don’t win the game without Kirk and Luol, them stepping up and playing well for us,” coach Vinny Del Negro said.

Deng, back after missing 11 games with a strained right calf, scored 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting in 28 minutes as a sub. Noah, who has been coming off the bench while recovering from plantar fasciitis, started for the first time since Feb. 3 and had 10 points and eight rebounds.

Rose took a tumble that added a sore hip to his already sore wrist while scoring 24 points to lead the Bulls, who have taken advantage of a soft patch in the schedule to win five of seven games. Taj Gibson(notes) added 14 points and tied a career high with 16 rebounds. Johnson (seven points) played with a strained right foot, and Hinrich (10 points) carried on despite a sprained left ankle.

“Everybody came out and did their role,” Rose said. “Joakim came back and rebounded the ball and put a lot of energy on the floor, and Luol came back and did what he’s supposed to do—rebound the ball, he did a great job of that, and scoring, that’s Luol.”

Andray Blatche(notes) had 18 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists for the Wizards, who continue to find new ways to make a bad season harder to forget. The loss was their ninth straight at home, setting a franchise record. It came two days after they snapped a franchise-record, 16-game overall losing streak Wednesday at New Orleans.

Simply put, it wasn’t hard to tell which team was more motivated when crunch time hit in the fourth quarter.

“When things got difficult, they turned the heat up,” Washington coach Flip Saunders said. “They’ve got a lot more at stake, they’re playing their tails off to try and make the playoffs. We played well at times but we didn’t finish.”

The latest on Chicago’s nicks and strains took up nearly all of Del Negro’s pregame meeting with reporters—“Next time, can we just send the doctor out?” he asked half-jokingly—so he was happy to see some positive developments.

“The longer I was out there, I actually felt better,” Deng said. “I really don’t know how it’s going to respond. The other day from practice it tightened up a little bit, so I’m sure it will be a little tight, but it’s feeling good right now.”

Rose put the video review monitor to good use in the first half with a pair of buzzer-beaters. He threw in a 7-footer after grabbing a scrappy offensive rebound at the end of the first quarter and nailed a 23-footer as the clock expired in the second. In the fourth, he rammed home an alley-oop from Noah that capped a 17-5 rally gave the Bulls some breathing room in a game that had been close throughout.

The Wizards led 73-70 late in the third quarter, but they made only one field goal over the next 9 1/2 minutes. Gibson put in a pair of layups to get the Bulls going, Deng added a jumper and a free throw, Hakim Warrick(notes) had three buckets, and then came the alley-oop to Rose that put Chicago ahead 87-80 midway through the fourth.

“I try to remind everybody that we’re going to be in the playoffs, we’ve just got to continue to win,” Rose said. “Even though the task is going to be hard, we’re still going to fight and try to come together.”

NOTES: Washington F Al Thornton(notes) missed his fifth straight game with a strained right hip flexor. … Wizards swingman Quinton Ross(notes) left the game in the second quarter with a bruised back and did not return. … The Wizards held a pregame ceremony to honor former All-Star Phil Chenier’s 25th anniversary as the team’s TV analyst. … The Wizards’ previous longest home losing streak was eight games from Dec. 17 to Jan. 8 in the 1966-67 season, when they were the Baltimore Bullets.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
 Chicago
T. Gibson Taj Gibson
7-13,  14 Pts
16 Rebs, 1 Assists
 Washington
A. Blatche Andray Blatche
7-20,  18 Pts
13 Rebs, 7 Assists

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Friday, Apr 2