- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 18, 2017

Washington led by 19 points at halftime. Before the game was over, it had to navigate its way through the tense final minute to finish a 112-107 win against the Chicago Bulls on Friday night. The win allowed Washington to stay put as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. The night was a wash for the top four teams, which all won. Three points from the evening:

Too many points in the second half. Chicago entered the game 26th in the league in scoring and as a walking relic. The Bulls’ offseason mismatching of Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler has produced one the league’s most deficient scoring teams. Chicago rarely shoots 3-pointers, and when it does, they often do not go in. The Bulls are last in 3-point attempts and tied for 29th in 3-point shooting percentage. Despite that ineffective process, Chicago was able to score 67 points in the second half Friday. Afterward, the all-too-familiar lamentations from the Wizards’ recently poor defense did not follow. Bradley Beal termed it “solid” overall, leaning on the fact Chicago scored just 40 points in the first half. But, the 67 in the second half was another massive number and this time put forth by a team playing in Verizon Center without Wade. “We’re going to have to look at the film, but it wasn’t obviously as good,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said of the second-half defense. “They had a lot of opportunities in transition. Early in that third quarter we missed a lot of good shots and the ball bounced to a lot of long rebounds and they got out in transition. Offensive rebounds were really… [Robin] Lopez – he had his way on the boards. He was getting offensive rebounds and putbacks. We have to do a better job. This is what we talked about before the game – they’re one of the top two or three teams in the league [for] offensive rebounds. We didn’t do a good enough job to keep them off the glass.”

Smith, the reckoning. Jason Smith had another potent night, this time as a starter. Markieff Morris was a late scratch because of the sickness that had dogged him on the West Coast road trip. Smith scored 15 points in the first half, delivered his typical energetic effort and yet again gave the Wizards a significant spark. His season has moved in the same arc as the team’s. It was a head-scratching start that later produced over-the-top results. He made his first three 3-pointers Saturday night boosting his effective field-goal percentage 58.3 this season. Though his defense remains not great (his defensive rating is 107), receiving this kind of performance from the Wizards’ fifth frontcourt player at the start of the season is nothing short of staggering. “You know what, he plays the right way,” Brooks said. “I know everybody says that, but he plays the right way. He gives you great effort, he runs our offense, he plays with great energy offensively, and defensively he gets in our pick-and-roll coverage, he contests shots.”

Wall finally sees 20. John Wall has been close multiple times. He had hit 19 assists in a game more than once, at times joking that if Marcin Gortat would catch the ball cleanly, 20 assists in a night would have already been eclipsed. Wall made it there Friday, finishing with 20 assists and two turnovers in 34 minutes. At halftime, when Washington led by 19 points, Wall’s teammates were aware he was nearing 20 assists, having already picked up 12. “I think going back into the fourth quarter I had maybe 18− I think, so I knew I had a chance,” Wall said. “I knew also that I had to play the right way because it was a close game, so you just couldn’t worry about those. Just try to get the win. If it was a blowout we kind of could have just worried about it, but it was a different kind of game. Luckily I got it.” There is another number to note in there, and it’s Wall’s minutes. The last time he played 34 minutes or fewer was March 1 against Toronto. The Wizards have played 36 games since the calendar turned. Wall has played 34 minutes or fewer six times. Brooks made it happen Friday with a slight tweak in the rotation: Wall came off the floor with 2:31 to play in the first quarter. Typically, that’s Beal’s spot to leave. Instead, he stayed on the floor with Brandon Jennings. Wall didn’t re-enter the game until there was 5:54 to play in the second quarter. For him, that’s a vacation.

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