The NBA season has less than 20 games remaining, with every last contest important. That goes doubly so for the showdown between the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls, separated by just 2.5 games in the standings (7pm ET Wednesday).
As of standings from Monday night, the Bulls, who are coming off of a critical and close victory over the Toronto Raptors, remain in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Right behind them are the Detroit Pistons and behind them, also on the outside looking in are the Wizards, who are coming off of an absolutely dominating 43-point win over Detroit to keep them within striking distance of the Bulls for eighth place.
On the season, the Bulls and the Wizards have met twice with each team winning one of the two games, both of which have been played at Chicago’s United Center. The games have been decided by a total of 19 points with both teams topping 100 in the two contests. The rivalry between these two Eastern Conference fringe teams goes back a few seasons as each time Chicago and Washington met in a four game series since the 2011-12 season, the teams have split the games. Also, since that season, the Bulls and Wizards are knotted up with eight wins apiece.
The home team has won nine of the 16 games in that five year span and is coming off of a win in the most recent game less than a month ago. Washington plays host on Wednesday but is just 17-17 at home on the season. However, Chicago has the worst road record of the teams ranked in the top 10 in the East with just 12 wins compared to 20 losses.
Needless to say, these two teams are close in the standings and close in the level of play they have shown all season. Both have dealt with injuries to top guys and both have shown glimpses of being better than their current seeding would suggest.
With the postseason closing in, this game could certainly have far reaching implications and could go a long way to deciding which team gets that final seed and which one stays home.
With Time Running Out, Wizards in Must-Win Situation
On Monday The Washington Post published a story with the headline reading: “NBA Power Rankings: Time has just about run out for the Wizards.”
The article is right. The NBA season is closer to its end than its beginning and Washington, which has been slumping as of late, is running out of time to catch Chicago. 2.5 games back might not sound like much except when you’re not winning, as has been the case for the past week and a half.
The Wizards came out of the all-star break on fire and emerged as one of the hottest teams in the East. Led by young and talented stars, Bradley Beal, John Wall and Markieff Morris, who was acquired prior to the trade deadline, the Wizards won seven of their first nine and seemed to be in perfect position to make a stretch run to the postseason. They would be aided in these efforts by a Chicago team that has struggled to keep its head above water as both Jimmy Butler (pictured) and Derrick Rose have been forced to miss significant time.
However this never happened as the Wizards followed this impressive run with five losses including being swept out West on a three-game road trip. Against the Pistons, Washington fired back in a big way in a game that was also a must-win. Washington kept the gap at 2.5 games and put themselves in a good position to take on another tough test against Chicago.
While throwing around the word must-win does seem a little strong at this point, Washington is behind and there are only 15 games left to go. Sitting in 10th and out of the postseason, which would be considered a major step back given last year’s breakthrough year, every game left is really a must-win in one way or another. Of course this begins with Chicago. This year the teams play just three, meaning this is the last time Washington has the Bulls on its schedule. A win puts them just 1.5 games back but a loss ups the distance to 3.5 games back with just 14 left.
So no, it’s not too early. Washington needs to win this game and if they do, they have a favorable schedule to follow. The Wizards get the last place Philadelphia 76ers, the third to last place New York Knicks, the West’s third to last place Minnesota Timberwolves and their last place team, the LA Lakers, for four of their next six.
Chicago, which is in a slightly lesser must-win situation given they control their own destiny, also has a pretty soft schedule. They have two against the Knicks, one against the second-to-worst Brooklyn Nets and one against the fourth worst Orlando Magic before going on the road to take on the seventh seeded Indiana Pacers and the West’s seventh seeded Houston Rockets.
A win gives them a little bit of breathing room which is important especially given the team’s starting lineup has about as much fragility as the two players which constantly seem to be written out of it.
Jimmy Butler is back and so are the Bulls
In a tough game against the East’s second best team in the Toronto Raptors, a team with 11 more wins than the Bulls, recently-returned superstar Jimmy Butler led a key sequence which resulted in Chicago stealing a rare road win against one of the best teams in the conference. It was clear Butler was a bit rusty but his impact was evident nonetheless. Quite rapidly, the Bulls realized just how much Butler’s presence had been missed.
Butler, who has been hampered by a knee injury for much of the season, score 13 points on 5-of-18 shooting with six assists, five rebounds and two blocks in a 34-minute showing. Offensively and defensively, he’s only going to continue to get better as he works off the rust from the injury. For the Bulls and their playoff hopes, there couldn’t be better news. Well, there could, if only Derrick Rose were to return as well.
He missed Monday’s game with a nagging groin injury and is currently listed as day-to-day, putting his status for this game on Wednesday night against the Wizards in some jeopardy.
Our Preview’s Chicago Bulls vs Washington Wizards Picks
The Wizards are coming off perhaps their best and most complete win of the season and consequently they are 5.5pt favorites for this game. But the Bulls are coming off of a hugely emotional win complete with getting one of their top players back. If Butler and Rose play, the Wizards could be in trouble.
Washington is at home which should be an advantage but again, Chicago just picked up a huge road win in Toronto. Butler is only going to get better and if Rose plays too, it could be a long night for the team most in need of the victory.
This preview’s betting picks’ conclusion is to take Chicago to build from the Toronto win and score another big one here, padding their lead for the eighth and final spot in the postseason.
- Bet on the Chicago Bulls +5.5pts on the spread @ -110 odds with the recommended 5Dimes Sportsbook, the only bookie to have a betting line up on this game at the time of writing.