The All-Star break might have been just what the Chicago Bulls needed.

After losing five of six going into last Sunday's showcase of stars, the Bulls will look for their third win in a row after the break Friday when they host the Washington Wizards.

Chicago (31-25), though, will face a Washington (31-21) squad which has won three straight and is playing well on the road.

The Bulls are 21-7 at the United Center, where they defeated the Wizards 112-94 on Dec. 2.

Washington, which lost its first eight road games, has won four of its last five away from the Verizon Center and is 10-6 on the road since its early season slump. The Wizards, though, have lost their last five regular-season games at the United Center.

Chicago returns home fresh off an 84-78 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, ending a six-game losing streak in Cleveland.

"We really needed this one,'' said Chicago's Luol Deng, who had 18 points on 8-for-15 shooting. "We need to start stepping it up a little bit."

Ben Wallace had 19 rebounds and a season-high seven blocks to go with 14 points, and made two free throws in the final minutes to help Chicago hold off Cleveland. Wallace, who averages 10.5 rebounds and 6.3 points, has pulled down 33 rebounds in his last two games. He also had five assists.

"He was outstanding,'' Bulls coach Scott Skiles said. "When he plays with that kind of effort, he can put up those kind of numbers. He was on from the beginning. We left him out there and he made big plays."

Despite committing 24 total turnovers and allowing Cleveland to rally from a 16-point deficit, Chicago hung on after scoring eight straight points in one stretch of the fourth quarter.

"We did a great job of moving the ball around," Wallace said. "Everybody was playing together. When we play together like that and keep the game simple, good things usually happen for us."

The Bulls have played better defense in their last two games. Chicago allows 94.8 points per game, but has given up an average of 79.5 in its last two. The Bulls allowed their opponents to score 100 points or more in four straight before the break.

Forward Andres Nocioni returned to Chicago's lineup Thursday after missing seven games with plantar fasciitis and scored five points in 15 minutes.

While Chicago is starting to heat up, so too is Washington star Gilbert Arenas. Arenas, who averages 29.3 points and shoots 42.3 percent, struggled going into the All-Star Break, averaging 19.0 points and shooting 31.6 percent (25-for-79) in his last four games before going to Las Vegas.

In two after, Arenas is averaging 40.5 points and shooting 52.2 percent (24-for-46).

After scoring 38 in a win over Minnesota on Tuesday, Arenas scored 43 as Washington held on for a 109-106 win over Sacramento on Thursday. He was 12-for-22 from the field, 16-for-17 from the free-throw line, had seven rebounds, seven assists and nine of Washington's 23 turnovers.

Arenas, though, has scored just 30 points on 8-for-27 shooting in two games against Chicago this season.

Thursday's game appeared headed for overtime, but a basket originally ruled a 2-pointer by Sacramento's John Salmons at the buzzer was waved off after a video review showed it was a 3-pointer that came after the buzzer.

"There are different ways to win in this league," Washington coach Eddie Jordan said. "And the most important thing is we won."

Caron Butler scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half as the Wizards improved to 4-4 since Antawn Jamison, who averages 19.3 points and 7.9 rebounds, has been out with a knee injury. Butler had 26 points in Washington's 113-103 home win over Chicago on Jan. 10.


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