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Valentine emerges, Rondo returns, but Bulls couldn’t close

The final possessions of the game were not the best for the Bulls.

Chicago Bulls v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

John Wall came up clutch in his team’s 101-99 win. In his 40 minutes of action, Wall scored 26 points on 52.4% shooting from the field along with 14 assists. He was making plays all over the court and has continued his marvelous season in which he is averaging 23 and 10. Chicago, though providing a valiant effort without three key players, couldn’t keep up with the potential All-Star late in the 4th quarter and he ended up making the plays to seal the deal.

Unlike their last meeting, it was in the half court where Wall did his damage. With the Wizards down two with less than a few minutes to go, Wall attacked Robin Lopez in the pick and roll to hit two quick midrange jumpers and give Washington a lead they would not relinquish. Despite Lopez being a very good rim protector and defender overall, he struggles when you move him out of the paint or force him to move his feet quickly. We saw him have trouble against LaMarcus Aldrige on Christmas when the power forward would stand near the top of the key and knock down open jumpers, knowing that Lopez would be late on contesting.

If Lopez is matched up against a guard with a quick burst and handle like Wall, he’s in trouble. To tie the game at 99, Wall was able to get a pick and maneuver his way to the top of the key. There he was able to get off a quick jumper right before Lopez could contest and hit it:

The Wizards went back to the Wall and Marcin Gortat PNR the very next possession but from the other side of the court. Gortat set a very good screen on Michael Carter-Williams, allowing Wall to have a head start running at Lopez with a lot of space at his disposal. With the big man retreating back to the basket, Wall was able to pull up and knock down the jumper with 5 seconds left. It was a back breaking shot for the Bulls and it erased a great effort throughout the game:

By putting Lopez in a tough position against a quicker man, Washington was able to exploit one of Chicago’s best defensive players in the key moments of the game.

Denzel Valentine shows up

This was Denzel Valentine’s best game in a Chicago uniform. The rookie was on fire, scoring 19 points while knocking down 5 3-pointers in the process. Valentine showed some signs of being a solid three-pointer shooter, something Chicago needs more of. If Valentine can continue to be be a solid presence off the bench for the Bulls, it would really help Fred Hoiberg’s problem of finding offense when Jimmy Butler is off the court. He was dangerous from deep, creating plays when needed and looked comfortable with the ball in his hands.

[It was also notable that Valentine danced and it motivated John Wall. I’m thinking Wall was gonna take over regardless -yfbb]

Add Valentine to the potential list of candidates of the “Jimmy + shooters” lineup. Obviously there are still questions about his defense, but the Michigan State rookie didn’t really make any big errors in the game.

Return of Rajon Rondo

With Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade out, Rajon Rondo finally saw some action on the court tonight. In his first game action since that horrid first half against Indiana, Rondo responded with a solid game. He had 12 points on 6 assists while shooting 50% from the field(!). He played with a lot of energy and looked like a player wanting to prove he isn't supposed to be benched. Based on his comments pre-game, he isn’t exactly sold on why he was benched in the first place.

Considering this performance by Rondo, it will be interesting to see if he will actually get minute when Butler, Wade, and Nikola Mirotic return. It sets up a dilemma for Hoiberg to figure out. Decisions will have to be made.