WASHINGTON(AP) Onward goes the Chicago Bulls' mediocre march toward the playoffs. After all, nothing says postseason like nearly blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead against the worst team in the East.
Chicago hung on and beat the Washington Wizards 101-99 Monday night to improve to five games under .500, good enough to hold down the eighth and final playoff spot in the generously spread-out Eastern Conference standings. Despite the close call, the Bulls were perfectly content to win for the fourth time in five games and open up a 1 1/2-game lead over the ninth-place Charlotte Bobcats.
"Of course there's a concern, but the biggest concern is winning and losing,'' coach Vinny Del Negro said. "That's what it comes down to. We made enough plays today to win. We were fortunate a little bit at the end, but we got the job done.''
Ben Gordon scored all of his 21 points in the second half - including seven in the final 3 1/2 minutes - for the Bulls, who led 88-77 with 6:09 to play. Antawn Jamison scored the game's next eight points to put the Wizards back in it, and Nick Young made the score 100-99 with a 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds play.
Gordon was then fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining. After Gordon missed the second attempt, the Wizards only had time for a 40-foot desperation heave by Jamison at the buzzer.
"We don't worry about how bad we played in a time like this,'' said John Salmons, who scored 19 points for the Bulls. "We just got to keep trying and getting wins.''
Jamison finished with 34 points and 12 rebounds, and Andray Blatche had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Wizards, who have lost five straight. Blatche started 6-for-6 from the field but finished 7-for-15. He also had two shots blocked and committed a bad pass turnover in the backcourt during a 14-0 third-quarter run that put Chicago ahead for good.
"I don't know what the lack of urgency is in the third quarter,'' Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "It has plagued us all season long, and it has caused us losses all season long.''
The Bulls trailed most of the game and were down by 12 in the first half, but they pulled ahead with the third-quarter spurt that included three dunks. Gordon, who sat on the bench in the second quarter after an 0-for-4 first quarter, scored 14 points in the third.
"I was just making some shots,'' Gordon said. "I didn't play the whole second quarter, I was kind of frustrated, so I just wanted to come out and play well in the third.''
Washington had one of its best games of the season when it beat Chicago 113-90 on Feb. 27, but that win was largely attributed to the energy created by the presence of President - and Bulls fan - Barack Obama.
There was no First Fan this time, only a daylong distraction from the Wizards' own Agent Zero. Gilbert Arenas, who has yet to play this season as he recovers from knee surgery, created a commotion with a series of comments that indicated he could make his return Saturday against Detroit. Tapscott, put on the spot by the three-time All-Star's remarks, would only say that Saturday is a "possibility'' for Arenas.
"The story continues,'' Tapscott said with a shrug and a smile.
Notes: Washington's Caron Butler missed his sixth straight game with a sore left hamstring. "I'm hopeful another week of rehab will get him back,'' Tapscott said. ... Darius Songaila sat out with a pinched nerve in his neck that had bothered him the past three games. Juan Dixon returned after missing two games with a strained right Achilles' tendon, but he aggravated the injury and did not play in the second half. The various injuries left the Wizards with eight healthy players for the second half. ... Javaris Crittenton scored eight straight Wizards points during one second-half stretch and finished with a season-high 18.