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The Bulls hit the road to take on the Wizards, who have been playing some really solid basketball since the return of John Wall from injury.
The Wizards may be 10-31, but don't let that record fool you. Washington is playing darn good ball right now, so the Bulls can't go into the Verizon Center expecting to just waltz out of there with a victory.
The main difference now between the Wizards who started 4-28 and the Wizards who have been playing competently lately is, of course, John Wall. Washington caught a rough break when the speedy point guard went down before the season even started, and things were really ugly in the early going. The Wizards did grab surprising wins against the Heat and Thunder, but there weren't many other positives. They were pretty horrific when they visited the United Center on Dec. 29, with the score remaining close only because the Bulls decided to lay an egg of their own.
But in the eight games since Wall returned to the lineup, the Wizards are 5-3 and have been a completely different team. Wall has started just one of those games and has modest averages of 14.0 points and 6.6 assists, but the on/off court numbers are pretty staggering. According to NBA.com, the Wizards have a net rating of 4.2 with Wall on the court. With him off? A -7.1. The on court numbers are obviously part of a small sample size, but that's still a crazy difference.
Somebody who has really benefited from the presence of Wall is No. 3 pick Bradley Beal. The youngster out of Florida struggled shooting to start the year, but has picked it up in January and has been great when paired with Wall in the backcourt. Beal is scoring 19.5 points per 36 minutes and shooting 53 percent overall and 59 percent from three when on the court with Wall, according to NBA.com. That's certainly a backcourt to watch out for in the coming years.
The Wizards' leading scorer is Jordan Crawford, although he will likely be coming off the bench from here on out now that Wall is back in the starting lineup. Crawford was a mostly inefficient chucker his first two years in the league, but he has improved somewhat. His PER is a respectable 16.28 and his true shooting percentage is up over 52 percent after years at 45.6 percent and 48.8 percent. Still not great, but not terrible.
In the frontcourt, the Wizards are led by Nene Hilario, Martell Webster, Emeka Okafor and Kevin Seraphin (cue the guy saying the Bulls needlessly traded him away). There's really nothing to be afraid about here, although I guess Nene is capable of some big performances. But he hasn't really been that good since returning from a plantar fasciitis injury in late November.
As for our Bulls, they're coming off one of their best performances of the season. They dominated a really good Warriors squad in nearly every facet, which was really refreshing considering the immense struggles against the Western Conference this season.
Kirk Hinrich was downright awesome against the Warriors, but Wall will certainly provide a stiff test. Wall is uber-athletic with extremely long arms, so it's highly doubtful Kirk gets the same clean looks that he did last night. But Hinrich needs to remain aggressive and not go into a shell like he often does when matched up against a tough opponent.
There's still no word about the availability of Luol Deng, who is still nursing a sore hamstring. Sam Smith said in his recap of last night's game that Deng would be back early next week, but Deng did say yesterday that he may play tonight. So who knows? The way Jimmy Butler is playing, it probably would be safe to just rest Deng until next week.
Since this one is in Washington, we get an early 6 p.m. CT tip-off. For more on the Wizards, check out Bullets Forever.