Bulls-Wizards Preview

With a key matchup in the Eastern Conference playoff race

upcoming, the Chicago Bulls can’t afford to look past a Washington

Wizards team riding their longest home winning streak in six

years.

Despite their season-long run of injuries, the Bulls will try to

continue their recent push toward home-court advantage in the first

round on Tuesday night when they visit Washington.

Chicago (40-32) blew a late 12-point advantage in a last-second

loss at Dallas on Saturday, but rebounded the following night by

rallying from a 13-point deficit to slip past struggling Detroit

95-94 at home.

“We dodged a bullet,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We were

fortunate, got out of a hole. … We were just trying to find a way

in the end.”

Thibodeau’s club has won four of five overall to move within 1

1/2 games of fourth-place Brooklyn in the East and has a critical

showdown on Thursday when it visits the Nets.

The Bulls, however, continue to be without Derrick Rose (knee),

Joakim Noah (right foot), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and

Richard Hamilton (lower back), though Thibodeau said Noah and

Belinelli are day to day.

Noah nearly had a triple-double with nine points, 10 assists and

17 rebounds in an 86-73 loss in Washington on Jan. 26, while

Belinelli scored 17 in an 87-77 home win on Dec. 29.

Luol Deng has given the club a spark lately, averaging 27.0

points while hitting 11 of 23 from beyond the arc in his last three

games.

The Bulls have won four of five in Washington, but have dropped

six of eight on the road overall heading into this contest.

It doesn’t figure to get any easier for Chicago as they take on

a Wizards team looking to extend its longest home winning streak

since a 10-game run during the 2006-07 season.

Washington claimed its seventh straight home victory with a

109-92 victory over Toronto on Sunday and has won those games by an

average of 13.5 points.

While the Wizards (27-46) have been all but eliminated from the

playoff picture, they are within three games of Philadelphia for

ninth in the East in part due to their surge at home.

“We’re playing for something that’s bigger than just nine games

left,” forward Martell Webster said. “Fighting for that ninth spot

because for us, that’s fuel for next year.”

John Wall, who had 18 points, 10 assists and just one turnover

on Sunday, has played a key role in the team’s recent success at

home. He’s averaged 27.8 points on 63.5 percent shooting and 9.5

assists in the last four games in Washington.

The Wizards also received a huge lift with the surprise return

of Bradley Beal. The rookie guard, who missed five games with an

ankle injury, finished with 24 points off the bench and hit 6 of 9

from 3-point range against the Raptors.

Beal may have a difficult time building off that performance

since he’s totaled just 18 points on 7-of-25 shooting in two games

against the Bulls.

Although Nene (knee) will be a game-decision for the Wizards,

center Emeka Okafor had 15 points and 16 rebounds in the January

win.

Washington has shot 50.0 percent from the field over its last

six games at the Verizon Center, averaging 108.2 points and hitting

52.4 percent from beyond the arc.

The Bulls, though, have limited the Wizards to just 79.8 points

per game on 38.1 percent shooting in their last eight games in this

series.