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Wizards open playoffs with win in Chicago

The SportsXchange

CHICAGO -- Washington power forward Nene had played in just four games since missing two months with a sprained left knee, but coach Randy Wittman leaned heavily on the muscular big man in the Wizards' first playoff game in six years.

Starting for the first time in nearly two months, Nene poured in 24 points to lead the Wizards to a 102-93 road playoff win over the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night at the United Center.

Washington, making its first playoff appearance since 2008, took a 1-0 lead in this first-round Eastern Conference playoff series. The Wizards were 22-19 on the road during the regular season, which was tied for best in the East.

"If I make the first basket, the butterflies in my stomach go away," Nene said. "You get nervous, you prepare yourself a little bit more. That is what I have tonight."

Nene missed two months with a sprained left knee but returned to appear in four games late in the regular season. He was back in the starting lineup for the first time since Feb. 23 and scored 14 points in the first half.

Forward Trevor Ariza added 18 points, guard John Wall scored 16, and center Marcin Gortat finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds.

The Wizards outscored the Bulls 30-18 in the fourth quarter and finished the game on an 18-6 run.

"This is what we have been trying to teach our guys all year," Wittman said. "Sometimes when you are a talented young player in this league, you think it all has to be done offensively. We preached all year that we have to learn how to win games when we don't have our 'A' game."

Washington took its initial lead of the second half when Ariza hit two free throws with 4:17 left to make it 88-87. After Bulls guard Jimmy Butler split two at the line to tie the score, a lay-in by Gortat and jumper from Nene gave the Wizards a 92-88 edge with 2:39 remaining.

After a tip by Chicago center Joakim Noah, Gortat was fouled while chasing an offensive rebound and hit both free throws to make it 94-90 with 1:51 left.

The Bulls missed jumpers on their next three possessions and Gortat helped put it out of reach with a putback that made it 96-90 with 34.2 seconds left.

After taking an 87-84 lead with 5:54 left, Chicago missed eight of its next nine shots.

"I didn't think our movement was as good as it normally is," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "You've got to make quick decisions. We've got to move without the ball. We've got to screen better. We've got to pass on target. We have to finish stronger."

Guards Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin led the Bulls with 16 points each. Butler finished with 15 points, forward Taj Gibson scored 12, and Noah produced 10 points and 10 rebounds.

After missing all five of his shots from the field in the first quarter, Chicago forward Mike Dunleavy scored 11 points in the opening six minutes of the second half, draining three shots from 3-point range and also scoring on an offensive rebound.

Dunleavy's flurry helped lift Chicago into a 69-57 lead. The Wizards answered with a 13-2 run to get back within a point and the game was tight the rest of the way.

"They're a very talented offensive team," Hinrich said. "We have to execute our coverages harder and more efficiently. There were times where we weren't on the same page with some things and there were times when we probably just weren't into them enough."

Fouls played a key role in the first half. After scoring five early points, Hinrich picked up his second foul with 5:06 left in the first quarter and went to the bench.

Washington held a 9-1 lead in free throw attempts in the first quarter, then the Bulls fouled their way into the penalty less than three minutes into the second quarter. Washington picked up its fifth team foul less than a minute later.

Neither team took full advantage. The Wizards hit 12 of 21 free throws in the first half and Chicago made 14 of 17.

The Bulls never trailed by more than six points in the first half but did not take their first lead until Augustin hit two free throws to make it 42-40 with 4:24 left before halftime. Chicago led 54-48 at the break.

After combining to attempt 38 free throws in the first half, the teams shot two each in the third quarter. Hinrich drew a technical foul during the quarter for arguing the lack of a call.

NOTES: Washington coach Randy Wittman returned F Nene to the starting lineup for Game 1. It was Nene's first start since Feb. 23, having missed 21 games late in the season with a sprained left knee. He returned to play in four games late in the season and scored in double figures all four times. "His intangibles are hard to replace -- basketball IQ, defending, knowing how to play smart," Wittman said. ... The last five playoff series Chicago has been involved in, during the past three years, the team winning Game 1 ended up losing the series. ... Washington ended a five-year playoff drought by qualifying for the postseason. In 2005, the Wizards ended a seven-year absence by playing Chicago and in 1997 snapped an eight-year dry spell with a first-round series against the Bulls. ... Washington has won just one playoff series in the past 32 years, against Chicago in '05. ... The Bulls produced the best record in the Eastern Conference since Jan. 1, going 36-16

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