Even a shortage of big men couldn’t slow the Bulls’ march to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Derrick Rose scored 23 points in Chicago’s seventh straight win, a 98-79 victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night that moved the Bulls into sole possession of first place in the East.
Luol Deng added 20 points and Keith Bogans scored 17, his highest total since joining the Bulls. Bogans took all of his 10 shots from behind the 3-point arc, hitting a season-high five.
”We’ve got a great team,” said Bogans. ”The guys know when a player goes down, somebody else has to step up.”
Bogans has been the target of criticism, mostly because his scoring average (4.1) is low for a starting shooting guard. While Tuesday’s game might quiet some of that commentary, Bogans says it doesn’t matter.
”It doesn’t frustrate me at all,” said Bogans. ”(As long as) I’m being talked about.”
The Bulls (48-18) moved a half-game ahead of the Boston Celtics. Chicago has not held the East’s top spot this late in the season since 1997-98, the season the Bulls won their sixth NBA championship.
”What’s happening right now is everyone is talking about us,” Deng said. ”Human nature is that it’s easy for us to fall into that trap of thinking we’re going to walk out there and win. That’s not the case. We have a lot of work to do.”
If two teams finish tied, the first tiebreaker is based on head-to-head results. The Celtics have won two of three against Chicago this season, but the teams play once more, at the United Center on April 7.
Washington center JaVale McGee had a rare triple-double with 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks, the most by an NBA player since Toronto’s Keon Clark had 12 on March 23, 2001.
”I had three (blocks) the first quarter and I was trying to match that in the second quarter and I had seven, so I was like I’m going to try and get 14,” McGee said. ”It was working for me tonight. I was blocking so good in the first half people were starting to hesitate and were more afraid to go up and it was easier to block shots.”
The Bulls jumped to a 31-19 lead in the first quarter with little resistance from the Wizards, who fell to 1-30 on the road. Chicago outrebounded Washington 17-5 in the opening period despite the absences of center Joakim Noah and power forward Carlos Boozer.
Rookie Jordan Crawford scored 27 points and played all 48 minutes for the Wizards, who have lost five straight and 12 of 13.
”In the NBA it can be a 360, and the next day you never know what can happen,” said Crawford, who was recently traded to Washington from Atlanta, where he wasn’t getting much court time. ”Luckily I was ready. I want to feed off this game and keep going.”
McGee fell just short of the franchise record for blocks in a game. Manute Bol swatted 15 shots for the then-Bullets on Feb. 26, 1987. It was the most blocks a player has had against Chicago in a regulation game.
”We’d like to see (McGee) do that more,” said Washington coach Flip Saunders. ”Concentrate more defensively and protect the rim.”
McGee achieved his triple-double with a dunk 18 seconds to play, after which he received a technical foul for hanging on the rim.
”That was the hardest one point I ever tried to make in my life,” McGee said. ”It was crazy, but I got it. It was a dunk of relief.”
Crawford heated up in the second quarter against the Bulls’ reserves, scoring 15 points in the period on 5-for-6 shooting and hit a jumper from the right wing that brought Washington within 47-46 with 1.1 seconds left in the half.
”Our second quarter was very poor,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. ”Our floor balance was bad.”
Kurt Thomas sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer, putting the Bulls up 50-46 at the break. It was Thomas’ first 3-pointer since April 10, 2005.
The Bulls pulled away with a 25-14 third period, highlighted by Deng’s 10 points. Bogans’ 3-pointer with 2:56 left put Chicago up 71-55, its biggest advantage to that point.
The Bulls have won 10 of their last 11 games and improved to 30-4 at home. Only San Antonio (31-3) had done better on their home floor.
”We feed off the fans,” Rose said. ”If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be playing the way we’re playing. The energy in the arena is crazy.”
Chicago played its third straight game without Boozer, who sprained his left ankle in a win over Charlotte on March 9. Boozer, who didn’t dress for the game, was seen limping toward the Bulls locker room before the game. A timetable for his return has not yet been established.
Noah missed the game because of flu-like symptoms. Noah was sent home from the team’s shootaround on Tuesday morning after reporting that he wasn’t feeling well. The illness isn’t believed to be serious.
”We’re playing hard,” Rose said. ”All the people that came in filled those spots. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Wizards suited up just nine players, six of which were rookies. It could have been worse as John Wall’s availability was in question before warm-ups. Wall had some soreness in his foot, which was stepped on during Washington’s loss to Oklahoma City on Monday. Rashard Lewis (knee), Cartier Martin (knee), Josh Howard (knee), Andray Blatche (shoulder) and Nick Young (flu) were all unavailable.
”We started three rookies,” Saunders said. ”We had a lot of opportunities to fold, especially the we’ve played the last week or so. I thought our guys played hard. We just ran out of gas.”
Notes: Only one team has gone 1-40 on the road since the NBA went to an 82-game schedule in 1967-68: the Sacramento Kings in 1990-91. … Legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin sat courtside for the game. She received a standing ovation from the crowd at the United Center after her image was flashed on the scoreboard while her famous song ”Respect” was playing over the arena’s sound system.