WASHINGTON – The Bulls, trying to get home-court advantage in the playoffs, suffered yet another injury and had Kirk Hinrich tossed in the fourth quarter.
The Washington Wizards, vying to be the best team not in the playoffs, were about as healthy as they’ve been all season and have been unbeatable recently in front of the local crowd.
That made the game about even.
John Wall had another solid all-around game, and Emeka Okafor scored the go-ahead dunk in the final minute Tuesday night as the Wizards won their eighth straight at home, beating the temperamental Bulls, 90-86.
Washington wants to pass the Philadelphia 76ers and finish ninth in the Eastern Conference. Not bad for a team that started 4-28, but it’s the NBA equivalent of playing for the top seed in the NIT.
Tuesday’s win left the Wizards 2½ games back of the 76ers – and 7½ back of the eighth-place Milwaukee Bucks – with eight to play.
“As funny as you might think it is, we’re not eliminated yet,” coach Randy Wittman said. “Stranger things have happened. Has anybody hit the Lotto in here? Let’s go buy some tickets.”
Yeah, right. Even Wall wasn’t buying that.
“We want to, but we know we probably gave, like, eight games away since I’ve been back,” Wall said. “Detroit twice, Charlotte, Orlando, Toronto, Minnesota. If we had won those games, we would be right there. We’re still fighting – we’re not going to give up on the season – but that’s a very long shot. We’ve probably got to win every game; they’ve got to lose every game.”
Wall finished with 27 points, nine assists, eight rebounds and three blocks. He’s averaging 23.7 points and 8.6 assists during the home winning streak. Nene, back after missing four games with a sore right knee, had 10 points and seven rebounds. One concern: Bradley Beal, in his second game since returning from a sprained left ankle, is still in pain.
Carlos Boozer had 19 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Bulls, who fell two games behind the fourth-place Brooklyn Nets in the East. The Bulls visit Brooklyn on Thursday.
One of the Bulls’ biggest challenges was having enough players to finish the game. Taj Gibson reinjured his left knee in the second quarter and will have an MRI today, and Hinrich was ejected with 3:19 to play for picking up a pair of technicals.
Gibson said the injury felt similar to the sprained MCL that caused him to miss 10 games recently. He returned on March 21 and is averaging 8.0 points on the season.
“Hopefully it’s not worse than before,” he said. “But it was real painful. It’s similar. But it depends on how it responds tomorrow.”
Hinrich was gone after teammate Nazr Mohammed was called for basket interference while tipping in a rebound, but the tantrum had nothing to do with the goaltending call.
“When I was complaining about a non-foul call, I got one,” Hinrich said. “And then the second one was very quick afterward. ... In that situation, in the late game, you’ve just got to avoid that happening. I’ve got to bite my tongue and let it go.”
Chicago was already without Derrick Rose (left knee), Joakim Noah (right foot), Marco Belinelli (abdominal strain) and Richard Hamilton (lower back).
“You’ve got to find a way in the end,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “Things went against us. We lost Kirk, missed some free throws, and we’ve got to do better.”
Okafor’s dunk, on a feed from Nene, gave the Wizards an 88-86 lead with 46 seconds to play. Jimmy Butler missed a jumper for the Bulls, and Trevor Ariza made two free throws with 8 seconds remaining to give Washington the four-point margin of victory.
Notes: Wall had the block of the game, using his right hand to slap away Luol Deng’s fast-break layup attempt in the second quarter. “I don’t think a lot of people think I can chase down blocked shots, but I do a pretty good job of it,” Wall said. ... The Wizards’ home winning streak is their longest since a 10-game run from Dec. 13, 2006 to Jan. 20, 2007.
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