LaVine's 35 not enough as Wizards beat Bulls

The Bulls All-Star hopeful and Washington's Bradley Beal scored 35 points each.
by Sam Smith
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Zach LaVine and Washington's Bradley Beal each dropped 35 points but it was the Wizards who hung on to secure the 105-101 victory in Chicago. LaVine missed a contested layup in the game's final seconds to tie the game. Thad Young added 14 points, five rebounds, and six assists for the Bulls. Chicago (9-14) will host the New Orleans Pelicans (10-12) on Wednesday night.

Some games this season for the Bulls, though not many, felt like a paper cut on a hang nail. This one Monday against the Washington Wizards was more like getting a root canal while trying to pass a kidney stone.

Yes, this one, the 105-101 loss to the Wizards, did hurt.

"We obviously haven't figured out how to win games that we are obviously capable of winning," said a somber Zach LaVine. "Yeah, it's frustrating. You've got to look at yourself first and see what I can do better and then look outwardly."

LaVine isn't about to say it, but he got his man.

LaVine had 35 points and six assists, his driving layup attempt with a second left to tie the game rolling agonizingly off the rim. Bradley Beal with 35 points and seven assists then made two free throws to end the game.

Zach LaVine shooting over Bradley Beal

Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal each scored 35 points in the matchup.

Yes, the Bulls got beaten by Alex Len, who was released by Toronto last month, Raul Neto, who ran Coby White out of the game in the third quarter with a pair of driving layups, the predictable David Bertans who only attempted three pointers in his 11 shots and Rui Hachimura. Russell Westbrook sat out with this being the second of a back to back on the road for the now 6-15 Wizards.

If the Bulls thought maybe with two wins over the Wizards in December this would be a day at the beach, it turned out they forgot to rub on the SPF-30. It became a nasty burn.

"I didn't think (our play) was very good," said Bulls coach Billy Donovan. "We weren't down in a (defensive) stance. We ran into screens, we were late on things, we didn't block out. Then we came down and had some really, really poor possessions where we turned the ball over. There were way too many possessions I thought we stood around and watched Zach."

But Mrs. Lincoln, what did you think of the play?

Not that LaVine was trying to do too much. It's just that too many all of a sudden are not doing enough.

Nobody among the Bulls playing now has more than one game of at least 20 points in the last 10 games. White, struggling more as he continues to attempt to run the team, is averaging about 12 points in that stretch after almost 19 his first 10 games. Garrett Temple has cooled to ice, missing 21 of his last 23 three pointers. Though Patrick Williams has scored in double figures his last six games, he has just one game of 20 points this season and mostly plays off one or two dribbles. Denzel Valentine got his second start and had 11 points, but also has but one game of 20 points. Thad Young had another excellent effort with 14 points, six assists and five rebounds, but he's not a big scorer and continues to play extensively.

Thad Young rises up against Washington

Thad Young rises up for a slam against Washington.

Reinforcements don't appear on the way with the Bulls confirming Lauri Markkanen will miss two to four weeks with a shoulder strain and Donovan announcing before the game that Chandler Hutchison won't be playing for awhile with personal issues. They join injured Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr. Though it was not enough of an excuse against the Wizards with the league's worst defense. Their starting center, Thomas Bryant, is out for the season, Westbrook was resting and they've had the most Covid-related postponements in the conference.

The Bulls may be nearing a crossroads for this season, but can they avoid the road to perdition?

"Nothing new," said LaVine. "Been there before. We've just got to go out there and battle."

The Bulls did battle back again, which has been an appealing characteristic of this team. They've experienced their share of significant deficits, almost always to make it a must-watch close. And they did so yet again despite a lethargic first half in which they trailed 58-48 and a bizarre third quarter in which they surrendered a six-point play after getting within 69-68.

See if you can figure out how that happens.

"I think it was a little bit of a weird game," said Tomas Satoransky, who was efficient again with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists and came in early in the second half for White after a tough defense start.

"I gave up two layups, so I wasn't expecting to stay in," White acknowledged. "Last year I went through the same thing, up and downs shooting the ball. So just try to stay consistent, getting up more shots in the gym. Watching film, breaking down my shot and the ones that looked good and the ones that don't." 
 With Satoransky now healthy after two bouts with Covid, one for contact tracing, the discussion grows about whether he should resume starting at point guard to at least take some pressure off White. Though Donovan seems intent on helping White—remember with just 24 starts in his NBA career—work through his rough patches.

"He (White) didn't shoot the ball well; our whole team didn't," said Donovan. "It wasn't just Coby. It happens. But I thought Coby, give him credit, he kept his head in the game. Made a couple of big shots, made a couple of big plays, obviously, to get to us within one point at the end he made a great shot (runner with 29.2 seconds left). We're relying on him to run the team and get us in and out of offenses and he's done a really, really…I've seen a lot of growth in that from him. But he's got to make good decisions, too. I thought tonight he played within himself and he was somewhat aggressive in that third quarter. We just had a lot of guys that were out of rhythm."

Billy Donovan gives his thoughts following the Bulls' Monday night loss to Washington.

Like that rare sequence with 7:06 left in the third quarter when Beal took a handoff from Robin Lopez. Beal rose for a three, but Valentine took his landing space, which is a flagrant foul along with the foul on the three. Beal made all three free throws and on the possession the Wizards got a three from Hachimura.

"That was a huge play," agreed Donovan. "I give our guys credit. We battled all the way back again and got it down to within a point. But 48 minutes, there's a lot of possessions and a half of doing it well is not going to be good enough."

The Bulls scored the last five points of the third quarter with a Satoransky three to get within 83-78 starting the fourth. The Wizards weren't particularly good down the stretch. They didn't make a three in the fourth quarter and were six for 26 for the game. Lopez had a brutal sequence in a few minutes with back to back turnovers and three fouls, five Washington turnovers in the quarter. Beal missed four of his six fourth quarter shots. But the Bulls could not get ahead as Washington squeezed LaVine. He was two of 11 in the quarter. Again, others kept passing the ball back to him late in the shot clock.

"Obviously, he's capable of singlehandedly of giving us points that are needed," Satoransly said about LaVine. "He did a great job in Orlando being aggressive. That opens up everything for us. He did a good job today as well. But there are moments we have to ease it up for him and find open shots. He played a lot of point guard position in this game. We have to help him more."

Tomas Satoransky

Tomas Satoransky had nine points, seven rebounds, and three assists in the loss

The Wizards got a 93-84 lead five minutes into the fourth quarter after Cristiano Felicio made back to back turnovers. Daniel Gafford was better with 10 points, even making his first jump shot of the season beyond 10 feet. But he continued to commit fouls and had five in 15 minutes. So Donovan went with smaller lineups with Young at center late. And the hustling Bulls outworked the bigger Wizards on the boards much of the quarter. They just could not turn the corner. Or corner their center.

After the Bulls drew within 93-91 on a Valentine three with 5:58 left, the Wizards scored six straight, four from Len rolling inside against the Bulls mini mites. The Bulls responded with six straight, four from LaVine, as Washington bricked some threes: 99-97 Wizards with two minutes left.

Beal then was fouled and made two free throws after LaVine missed a floater to tie at 99. With Washington leading 101-97, Len rolled in on a pick and roll with Beal and was fouled with Young and Williams the Bulls tallest players on the floor. Len made one of two for a 102-97 Wizards lead with 1:14 left.

"We were always playing catchup for most of the night," said Donovan. "I thought their size hurt us with some of our front court guys being out. The other thing, too, is we fouled entirely too much (36 Washington free throws as Beal was 14 of 15; LaVine was eight of 11). Put them to the free throw line at an incredible rate. But I thought we executed actually pretty well coming down the stretch the last couple of plays there."

LaVine drove and was fouled, making both with a minute left to get within 102-99. Beal then was stripped by Young for a turnover. Young now leads the Bulls in steals and is tied for 15th in the league. LaVine missed a jumper, but White grabbed the bouncing ball and passed out to Young, who called timeout. Coming out of the timeout, White took a handoff from Young and made that eight footer to get the Bulls within 102-101 with 29.2 seconds left.

Beal held the ball and then drove past Temple and Young and was fouled, but made just one of two. The Bulls had a chance for a winner with 9.8 seconds left trailing 103-101.

The play must have been called the Egyptian because the lane opened like it was the Red Sea. LaVine came up from the left corner over a stagger screen from Young and Valentine. He got the ball near midcourt with Beal up tight. LaVine took one dribble and turned and was four feet ahead of Beal.

It looked like a wide open layup!

"Just make the layup," said LaVine.

Len stepped toward the middle and posed. As LaVine got into the paint and stood to his 7-1; hands up. LaVine brought the ball to his right hand and then to his lefth and up past Len. The ball hit the box above the rim... and rolled off.

"I thought I drove and created contact," said LaVine. "The ref saw it differently."

LaVine stood under the basket, facing the court, two hands raised in frustration and disbelief. This pastiche of near misses and could have beens once again just barely not enough to create, if not a masterpiece, at least an appealing picture.

Highlights: Zach LaVine drops 35 points against Washington.

"Everybody says, ‘Put the pressure on the rim at the end of the game, don't settle,'" LaVine said. "I thought I did that. I thought I created contact. I guess I've just got to make the layup."

It wasn't enough, as the late Charles Shackleford said about being able to use the left hand also, to have the advantage of being amphibious.

"We had a chance and I think Zach getting all the way down hill and attacking the basket was a good play," said Donovan. "It was more to me from six minutes to three minutes we didn't generate enough good things offensively. It wasn't going to be a winning play unless maybe they fouled him. But he got to the rim to at least tie it; he didn't make it."

And now the Bulls are five games under water at 9-14 with a difficult stretch ahead. The Bulls have home games this week with New Orleans and the Clippers and then on the road to Indiana, Charlotte and Philadelphia. This one was painful.

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The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.

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