Wizards, Baby Bulls Make Playoff Push

The Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards: the future of the NBA. Did I just write that? Two of the most pathetic and maligned franchises of the last seven years (the Bulls’ last playoff appearance was in 1998; the Wizards’ in 1997) are going to be the future vanguards of the NBA? It’s the truth folks, you must accept it. Both teams feature good young point guards (Kirk Hinrich and Gilbert Arenas), off guards (“Fourth Quarter” Ben Gordon and Larry Hughes), threes (alright, Andres Nocioni is crazy, but Luol Deng is sick; and Antwan Jamison), power forwards (Antonio Davis and Jared Jefferies), emerging young centers (Eddy Curry and Brendan Haywood), and good benches. Both teams also have coaches in the second year of their second NBA coaching jobs, and both seem to have learned from past mistakes. The teams, which could meet in the first round of the playoffs, played Wednesday night, with the Wizards coming out on top and guaranteeing themselves a playoff spot (the Bulls already clinched, baby). It was the teams’ fourth meeting this season, and for this column I’m going to go back through their earlier games to see how a playoff series might turn out. Have a good week. The first match-up came in the preseason, with the Wizards coming out on top, 100-95. Hinrich scored a then career-high 32 points in a losing effort, while Haywood paced the Wizards with 14 points, nine boards and three blocks. Both teams did not play their regulars that much though, as both also had a lot of scrub free agents on their rosters whom they would later cut. Yet the game was meaningful for both teams as evidenced by a shoving match between Hinrich and Hughes. Other players got involved, with Davis and Washington’s Michael Ruffin being ejected. The game set the rough, serious tone for the series that has carried on throughout the season. Game one of the regular season was another Wizards win, this time by a score of 95-88. Arenas led the Wiz with 34 points and Jamison had seven points in a 15-4 fourth quarter run that won the game. Tyson Chandler had a huge game for the Bulls in a losing effort, with 21 boards, 15 points and three blocks. The key to this game was a comment made afterwards by Arenas: “When you have old veterans in here, they’ve done shut it down because earlier in their career, they had chances of winning championships and now they’re on a bottom-feeder team; they don’t want to play. But we have young talent that’s trying to prove themselves in this league and they want to win.” He could have been talking about the Bulls, too. The Bulls, in the midst of a streak of five wins in six games, won the third meeting in February, 97-90. Hinrich was the man with 26 points and five three-pointers (in 12 attempts! Who shoots 12 threes in a game?), while Gordon had 20 points, although none came in the fourth. Hughes sat this one out for Washington, who was again led by Arenas with 36 points, seven assists, three steals and two blocks (a point guard with two blocks is badass). The Wizards were in a bit of a slump, having lost four of five games, and Hughes was out, but this was a good win for the Bulls. Plus, Jamison and Chandler had coincidental technical fouls at the end of the first quarter.Wednesday night, the Wizards beat a severely undermanned Bulls squad, 93-82. The game got moved to national television on ESPN, a good recognition for the development of both teams. In terms of excuses for the Bulls, all I have to say is this: Adrian Griffin started. Adrian Griffin should not be in the NBA; he should be teaching eight-year olds how to play foosball at his local YMCA. The guy is a bum, and yet he’s also a Bulls captain for some reason. Anyway, the Bulls were missing Deng, Curry and, after four minutes of playing time, Chandler (who I think is a dark horse Sixth Man candidate), who got ejected because the ref thought he kicked Haywood. Tyson denies everything. The refs could have been a little whistle-happy because of the series history, or Tyson may just like kicking guys when they’re down. Needless to say, the Wizards won soundly. Larry Hughes had this to say about the Bulls afterwards: “I don’t think they want to play us; I feel confident in what we do. They’re a solid defensive team, but at the same time we have guys who can react and create in different situations whereas it’s hard for those guys to stop us on defense. If we play solid, we feel good about this match-up.” Be careful what you wish for Larry; hubris can be a mother. For that reason – and if Curry plays – I see the Bulls winning the series, 4-2.