Wizards proceed with caution against surging Bulls (Dec 31, 2017)

BY AP • December 31, 2017

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards' struggles against opponents with losing records is well documented. That makes Sunday's matchup against the 13-22 Chicago Bulls dangerous -- unless John Wall and crew simply focus on recent play.

The Bulls are 10-2 in their last 12 games, tying the Golden State Warriors for the NBA's best record since Dec. 8.

The latest win, 119-107 over the Indiana Pacers on Friday, occurred without all their key pieces. Despite the absence of point guard Kris Dunn, Chicago won its third game in a row.

Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen scored a career-high 32 points. Nikola Mirotic, whose return from a broken jaw coincided with the turnaround, had 28 off the bench. The pair had 13 of Chicago's 16 3-pointers.

"I told myself today before the game that I had to be aggressive a little bit more and that's what I did," said Mirotic, who sank 8 of 16 from beyond the arc. "It felt great making the first couple of 3s and then my teammates tried to find me. It was just fun."

The Wizards (20-16) would not describe their season as fun except for those games when players are engaged throughout. Friday's 121-103 rout over the Houston Rockets was one of those nights.

Otto Porter scored 26 points and hit 7 of 11 3-point attempts. Washington matched a franchise record with 18 baskets from distance while holding the NBA's most prolific 3-point shooting team to 14 of 48.

"We moved the ball," Wall said. "A lot of guys in double figures. We didn't care who was getting shots. Just played team basketball, team defense. It's simple."

There has been little easy for the Wizards against opponents with losing records. After falling to an eight-win Atlanta Hawks team on Wednesday, Washington fell to 9-10 against teams below .500.

"This is a bold statement, but I like coaching this team better," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said in reference to Washington's split personality. "That other team, it's no fun -- it's actually no fun at all."

Porter scored 14 points in the first half as Washington led 59-48 while holding Houston to its fewest first-half points this season. The Wizards pushed the Rockets late with a 34-25 fourth quarter.

"When we play the good teams ... we come and play well with a lot of energy," said Wall, who had 17 points against Houston. "We have to find a way to keep this going and when play a team that is below .500 we have to play the exact same way."

The Bulls may have to find a way to win without Dunn, who sat out Friday's game with left patella tendinitis. Jerian Grant filled in with 11 points and 12 assists.

When teammates are hitting shots, racking up the assists -- and smiles -- comes much easier.

"It's a lot more fun to win than to lose," Markkanen said. "We're doing that as a team."

Mirotic is averaging 18.3 points and shooting 48 percent on 3-pointers.

"I've been playing great and I can score 20 each game, but it's not just about scoring, it's about winning," Mirotic said. "That's what makes me very happy and very confident -- the team is winning."

Washington reserve forward Mike Scott returned to the team for Saturday's practice after missing Friday's win for the birth of his second child.

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