Keys to the Game: Bulls vs. Wizards (01.15.20)

The Chicago Bulls will tip off the second half of their regular-season schedule when they host the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night.

Chicago hopes to bounce back from a disappointing first half that featured a 14-27 record in 41 games. The Bulls entered the season with the goal to reach the playoffs, but they have major work to do during the next 41 games to make that a reality.

Bulls head coach Jim Boylen remains optimistic about his young team's chances, however.

"I think some of the pillars of our system have been installed," Boylen recently told reporters. "We've got a style of play on the offensive end, and we've got a style of play on the defensive end. We have established practice habits and playing-hard habits that I think have carried through September, October and into the season.

"We have an opportunity to build depth now. With Wendell (Carter Jr.) out and Otto (Porter Jr.) out, we've had to play different lineups, different people than we envisioned when the season started. It's difficult on the team, but I think it's also a positive for a young team when guys get an opportunity."

The next opportunity comes against Washington, which is 13-26 with two games left in its first half. After a woeful start, the Wizards have looked better lately with wins in three of their last five contests.

Bradley Beal leads the Wizards with 27.7 points per game to go along with 6.5 assists and 4.7 rebounds. He figures to return to Chicago next month to take part in the NBA All-Star Game.

Davis Bertans, who is second on the Wizards with 15.4 points per game, also could challenge the Bulls. He is shooting a career-best 43.6 percent from 3-point range while averaging a team-high 8.6 attempts per game.

Much like Boylen with the Bulls, Wizards coach Scott Brooks appreciates his team's competitiveness.

"When you have (13 wins), you have to keep searching to find better players," Brooks recently told reporters. "But I think the template of how we want to play -- hard, and with enthusiasm -- when you get a bench that does that, you create almost like, not a team within a team, but you connect. You get a connection with your bench players, that they take pride in finishing up a quarter or extending a lead. I think we're building that."

The Wizards' top assignment on defense will be Bulls shooting guard Zach LaVine, who is averaging 24.5 points per game on the season. Lauri Markkanen ranks second wiin averaging 15.1 points, but he has battled inconsistency this season and will look to put up a good performance against Washington.

Carter Jr. is sidelined by an ankle injury, while ex-Wizards forward Porter Jr. remains out because of a foot injury. The absence of Carter has led the Bulls to give more time to rookie Daniel Gafford and veteran Thaddeus Young in the frontcourt.

This is the second meeting between the teams this season. Chicago held on for a 110-109 overtime win in the first matchup Dec. 18 in the nation's capital.

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