WASHINGTON (AP) — The week began with John Wall and the Washington Wizards on a five-game losing streak and facing a daunting margin just to reach the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
After a pair of victories by an average of 32 points over the two teams right ahead of them in the standings, the Wizards are in a far different place.
“Now we’re in it,” forward Jared Dudley said. “Before, if we lose these two, we would have been out of it. We win these two, now we’re in the thick of things.”
Finally playing as if their chance at returning to the postseason was on the line, which it very much is, the Wizards beat Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls 117-96 behind Wall’s third triple-double of the season Wednesday night.
Wall, an All-Star point guard, produced 29 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds, outplaying Rose, who returned after missing two games with a strained left groin and finished with 16 points and four assists.
“We just couldn’t really get a stop tonight, so they got us,” said Doug McDermott, who led the Bulls with 20 points as a reserve. “We’ve got to come out with urgency. We didn’t do that tonight. That’s on us.”
Wall pointed his finger at the defensive side of the ball, saying that the Wizards spent plenty of time watching video of their disastrous recent road trip and focusing on how to improve the way they deal with opponents’ pick-and-rolls.
And, he thinks, the dividends could keep coming.
“We put ourselves in this situation. And if we just keep playing defense this way, we give ourselves a great chance to beat anybody. Simple as that,” Wall said. “We simplified our defense the last two games, it showed up and it’s been a lot better.”
In their previous outing, on Monday, the Wizards beat the visiting Detroit Pistons by 43 points. Detroit lost again Wednesday, 118-114 at Atlanta, meaning Washington is still 10th in the East but now sits only 1 1/2 games behind both the eighth-place Bulls and ninth-place Pistons.
Plus, there is this: The Wizards now own the tiebreakers against both of those teams they’re chasing, 2-1 over Chicago with no games remaining and 3-0 over Detroit with only one to play.
“We knew that the teams that we’re chasing were right here in front of us,” Dudley said. “We knew it was now or never.”
Chicago got Rose back, and Jimmy Butler scored 17 points in his second game in a row after missing three with an injury. But Joakim Noah is done for the season, Pau Gasol is still out, and Taj Gibson played only 8 minutes Wednesday because he aggravated his right hamstring.
“The challenge is pretty tough right now,” Rose said, “but that’s why we’re pros.”
Rose said he expects to face Brooklyn on Thursday. “I wasn’t really trying to force anything,” he said about Wednesday’s return to action. “Just trying to get a groove, get a feel for the ball.” Coach Fred Hoiberg’s take: “I thought his burst looked good, for the most part. We wanted to play him short stints, no longer than 7-minute stints.”
TEMPLE CAN’T MISS
Temple’s points all came in the first half, when he shot 5 for 5 on 3s. “Just taking what the defense gave him,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. The rest of the Wizards’ bench was a combined 0 for 11 in the half.
The Wizards have won seven of their past eight games in Washington. “Maybe,” Temple joked, “we need to play the rest of our games at home.”
Wall was whistled for a flagrant foul after chasing Butler down and blocking his shot. Wittman’s postgame reaction to the call? “I’m glad I didn’t play in this (era). Jiminy Christmas, if that was a flagrant. But times have changed.”
Bulls: Have lost nine of 10 on the road. … Cameron Bairstow sat out with a back injury.
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