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Wizards still in race after beating Bulls

The SportsXchange

WASHINGTON -- After their previous win, the Wizards talked nobly about playing for ninth place. Considering their wretched start to the season, such a finish in the Eastern Conference would be cause for a prideful entrance into the offseason.

After a 90-86 win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night, Washington is now talking ... playoffs?

"As funny as you might think it is, we're not eliminated yet," said Wizards coach Randy Wittman following his team's eighth straight home victory at the Verizon Center. John Wall had 27 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, and three blocks. Emeka Okafor's go-ahead dunk with 45.9 seconds finished off a second-half rally.

"Stranger things have happened," Wittman continued. "Has anybody hit the lotto in here yet? Let's go buy some tickets. You don't know. We're not eliminated."

Here's a stranger thing -- a team deemed miserable with a 4-28 record even being in position to dream such a postseason dream by season's end. The Wizards (28-46) are nine games behind eighth-place Milwaukee in the loss column. The Bucks only have nine games remaining.

Wall brought the situation back to reality after he drove and dished repeatedly against the Bulls (40-33) yet only committed one turnover.

"We know we probably gave like eight games away since I've been back," Wall said. "If we would have won those games, we really would have been right there, like two or three games back. We're still fighting. We're not going to give up on the season."

As for the playoffs, "That's a very long shot," Wall said.

Washington trailed by 10 in the first half and never held more than a four-point lead. A.J. Price scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter for the Wizards. Okafor, Nene and Trevor Ariza each scored 10 points.

With the Bulls trailing 83-82 with 3:59 remaining, the referees called center Nazr Mohammed for basket interference on Kirk Hinrich's attempt at a running bank shot hung on the rim. Hinrich balked at the call, resulting in consecutive technical fouls and an ejection.

Wall made 11 of 13 free throws, but split the technicals, putting the Wizards ahead 84-82. After Mohammed's jump hook tied the game at 86-86 with 56 seconds remaining, the Wizards took the lead for good as a driving Nene fed Okafor inside. Ariza tacked on two free throws with eight seconds to play.

Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Daequan Cook 17 points and Mohammed added 12 points and 12 rebounds. Chicago shot 7 of 22 from the field in the fourth quarter and 39.3 percent overall.

"The shooting part of it, there are going to be nights in which you don't shoot it as well as some other nights," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Discipline defensively, you're in control of that. ... That's what we have to be able to count on."

The teams combined for one point during the opening 4:09 of the fourth quarter. Tied at 73-73, Price and Ariza combined for Washington's next 11 points with Price hitting two 3-pointers.

Chicago is in a race with the idle Brooklyn Nets (42-31) and Atlanta Hawks (42-33) for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls committed only seven turnovers, including just one in the first half, but lost possession four times in the fourth quarter.

Besides the loss of Hinrich and several regular missing with injury, Bulls forward Taj Gibson left the game in the first half with a left knee injury and did not return. Gibson will have an MRI on Wednesday.

"You have to be mentally tough when you face some adversity," Thibodeau said. "We're shorthanded. We have to play with great intensity all the time. That's what gives us our shot."

Asked about possibly playing next without Gibson and fellow big man Joakim Noah, the stoic Thibodeau simply stated, "Next man up."

Wall scored 14 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 49-42 at halftime. The Wizards point guard said a return to defense in the second half changed the game. The team has certainly turned around its season.

"Just to know where we came from to start the season to where we are now, we have a lot of pride in ourselves," Wall said. "We want to close the season strong. This is the most wins I've had since I've been here. It feels great."

NOTES: Chicago's Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain), Richard Hamilton (lower back) and Joakim Noah (right foot) were inactive and remain day-to-day. Derrick Rose (left knee) remains sidelined. ... The last time the Wizards won at least eight consecutive home games was Dec. 13, 2006-Jan. 20, 2007, when they won 10 straight. ... The teams split the previous two matchups, each winning at home. The fourth and final meeting comes April 17 at Chicago. ...The Wizards play Wednesday in Toronto against the Raptors, while the Bulls stay on the road to the face the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday.
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