By K.C. Johnson, Tribune reporter
Unlike so much of this snuffed-candle season, the opportunities were endless Monday night at the United Center for the Bulls. With a victory, they could’ve posted their first six-game win streak since March 4, 2012.
They could’ve evened their record for the first time since sitting at 7-7 on Nov. 27.
They could’ve remained unbeaten in 2014 and continued the momentum on this soft portion of this schedule, which features games against eight straight sub-.500 teams and 10 of 11. Instead, the Bulls treated defense and taking care of the ball as if both were infectious diseases and never led in a 102-88 loss to the Wizards. Cue the somber sound bites again. John Wall and Nene each scored 19 points to lead five Wizards in double figures.
Wall added seven assists and five rebounds. Defense was the foundation of the five-game win streak and defense is what failed the Bulls on Monday. After allowing just 84.4 points on 38.9 percent shooting in the streak, the Bulls allowed the Wizards to shoot 52 percent. Washington also scored 18 points off the Bulls’ 22 turnovers. Worse, the Bulls reverted to a season-long habit of surrendering critical 3-pointers at inopportune times.
After trailing by as many as 15, the Bulls could’ve pulled within four in the third quarter. But Carlos Boozer missed a bunny and the Bulls allowed back-to-back 3-pointers by Trevor Ariza and Martell Webster. When Garrett Temple banked home another 3-pointer to beat the third-quarter buzzer, the Bulls’ deficit had grown back to 10 points. To open the fourth, D.J. Augustin got whistled for a touch foul on Temple as he attempted another 3-pointer.
Temple buried all three free throws. In the fourth, Augustin buried two free throws to cap another mini-surge by the Bulls, pulling them within five. But then came one of those sequences that gives Thibodeau nightmares. Bradley Beal drained a jumper over Joakim Noah. Taj Gibson committed a brutal turnover in the backcourt. And then Wall buried a jumper after Marcin Gortat beat the Bulls for an offensive rebound. Jimmy Butler returned from missing one game with a sore left thigh, but the Bulls lost Nazr Mohammed to a sprained left middle finger.
Butler scored 12 points in 38 minutes for the Bulls, who were led by Boozer’s 19 points. Joakim Noah grabbed 16 rebounds. “We didn’t do anything yet,” Noah said in his passionate comments from late Saturday after the Bulls’ fifth straight victory. In this, too, he was right.