- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 10, 2015

Bullying Chicago Bulls forward Jimmy Butler away from a loose ball, Nene began the process for a rare personal presentation. His recovery of possession and outlet pass to John Wall led to a Bradley Beal 3-pointer and a final crush of the Bulls‘ hopes.

The Wall-to-Beal 3-point combination is common. The typically stern and stone-faced Nene screaming and pumping his fist is not. Yet, that was his reaction Friday night when Beal’s 3-pointer capsized the Bulls in an 102-86 Wizards win appraised by a capacity and pleased Verizon Center crowd.

Animosity between the teams continues to percolate. Both are better than last season, when the Wizards pushed the Bulls out of the playoffs. Chicago upped the disagreement level when it came into the Verizon Center and won, 99-91, Dec. 23. The Bulls remain the only team this season to beat the Wizards when scoring less than 100 points. Washington is 20-1 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 points.

That night, Bulls antagonist Joakim Noah finished with his hands on his hips and smiling at the Wizards’ bench during free throws at the end of the game. Friday, Noah again had his hands on his hips during late free throws. This time, his face was filled with anger as he watched John Wall make the free throw awarded to the Wizards after a technical foul was called on Noah. Nene had stripped Noah of the ball before it hit off Noah’s leg and went out of bounds. With a petulant leg swing, he kicked it to earn the technical foul he seemed destined for after berating the referee multiple times earlier in the night. Nene tugged his elbow sleeve back into place and sniffed.

“They came in here and took the first game,” Nene said. “We weren’t going to allow them to take the second. That’s what happened.”

Nene and Marcin Gortat had won during a modern NBA rarity. The Wizards play significant size in the post. So does Chicago. It’s a throwback concept in the stretch-four era. Friday was for post battles, not aesthete big men.

Gortat had his best night of the season. His tied a season high with 13 rebounds. He also scored 21 points. Nene scored 15 points and sucked in 11 rebounds.

“NBA’s about people having big tempers and egos,” Gortat said. “Me and Nene, we’ve definitely got ego and tempers. We ain’t going to let anybody come in here and punk us like that. So, they did one time and we didn’t like that. We were ready for this game.”

The evening was an improvement for each over the first game against the Bulls. Gortat previously produced a double-double, 14 points and 11 rebounds, but he was 5-for-15 from the field. Nene was still coming off the bench at the time while managing plantar fasciitis. He was 3-for-10 from the field in December, resulting in a pedestrian eight points and five rebounds. Friday, they were a combined 17-for-27 even though Gortat missed a dunk.

Asked about Chicago and Noah, Nene chose to generalize — for the most part.

“Always going to be physicality for anyone,” Nene said. “That’s my type. I’m like that, you know? Me against somebody else. He embarrass me, I embarrass them. I always take [it] personally. … Especially with Chicago.”

Once off the court, Noah morphed from his playing state of annoying dervish to reverent. He finished with 10 rebounds on an otherwise desultory evening of three points via 1-for-5 shooting.

“They did a great job,” Noah said. “They were definitely more physical than us. They moved the ball better than us. They executed better than us. They just played a better all-around game.

“They were very active, all over the place; very skilled players. Got to give credit when credit is due.”

The win vaulted Washington past the Bulls and Toronto Raptors for the second spot in the Eastern Conference during a status-gauging weekend. Atlanta, which the Wizards play Sunday down south, won again, to move to 28-8. They lead the 25-11 Wizards by three games for the conference’s top record. The Hawks are rolling. They have won 21 of their last 23 games.

When Washington arrives there late Saturday afternoon, it will be preparing for the “big” men of the newer era. At 6-foot-8, skilled Paul Millsap navigates as the Hawks’ power forward. Al Horford is their 6-foot-10 big man. Even the beef off the bench is marginal in size with 6-foot-8 Mike Scott and 6-foot-9 Elton Brand.

The Wizards will counter with their brooding odd couple in the post, a grumpy Brazilian and cheery native of Poland. Earlier in the week, the Wizards released photos of a Gortat action figure, complete with a cape and what Gortat called “beefy” shoulders and arms. Gortat chose Nene when asked who his sidekick would be. He figured if there would be trouble, it was good to have Nene around. That strategy worked against Chicago.

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