Keys to the Game: Bulls at Wizards (12.28.18)
WASHINGTON -- Two of the Eastern Conference's most disappointing teams meet for the first time this season Friday when the Chicago Bulls pay a visit to the Washington Wizards.
The Wizards were expected to be contenders in a wide-open conference, but haven't looked like a cohesive unit at any point of the season. They have lost eight of their last 10 contests, including a 106-95 defeat to Detroit on Wednesday, to drop them to 13-22 on the campaign.
Washington has been plagued by poor play at the beginning of halves, ranking No. 19 in the league in first-quarter scoring and 23rd in third-quarter scoring. By contrast, the Wizards are No. 2 in the league in fourth-quarter scoring at 28.6 points per game.
"We can't keep digging ourselves a hole and then come back within three and expect to win a game -- it doesn't work like that," guard Bradley Beal told reporters after Wednesday's game. "We've got to play our (butts) off for 48 minutes. The third quarter, especially, because that's kind of been our Achilles' heel."
After playing 11 of their last 15 games on the road, the Wizards have eight of their next 12 contests at home, giving them a chance to turn things around before their playoff hopes completely slip away.
"I don't think it matters where (the game) is," Wizards forward Trevor Ariza said. "It's just about trying to play as hard and staying as locked in as we can for as close to 48 minutes as possible."
The Wizards will continue to be without forward Otto Porter, who has been ruled out of Friday's contest as he works his way back from a quad injury.
Chicago will get a boost to its lineup Friday as guard Zach LaVine is expected to get the starting nod, one game after returning to action after missing two weeks with an ankle injury. LaVine scored 28 points in the Bulls' 119-94 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday.
"We have to go out there and fight," LaVine told the team's website about Chicago's upcoming two-game road trip. "We have two playoff contenders. Nobody is going to fold. We have to go out there and attack them and try to steal a couple of games. It's good for us to go out there and get a little test on the road."
The Bulls have been a mixed bag under new coach Jim Boylen, alternating between blowout losses and surprising victories. With LaVine back in the fold alongside Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen, Boylen is figuring out a way to make sure his young stars retain their consistency from game to game.
"We don't know what's out there yet," Boylen said. "I do know it's going to come down to sharing and caring and uplifting each other. You're not going to have the same leading scorer every night if you have a good team and if you have guys that are feeding the hot hand, working the right matchup and executing an unselfish, respectful offense. That's what we're going to try to do."
The Bulls made a roster move Thursday, signing guard Brandon Sampson to a two-way contract and waiving two-way player Tyler Ulis. Sampson averaged 17.6 points in 18 games with the G-League Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
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