WASHINGTON, (Reuters) – The Chicago Bulls continued their rapid ascent through the Eastern Conference by defeating the injury-depleted Washington Wizards 87-80 Wednesday for their ninth victory in their last 10 games.
Forward Carlos Boozer scored 30 points and had 10 rebounds and seven assists, while third-year point guard Derrick Rose slashed through the Wizards defense to score 25 points.
Boozer, a two-time All-Star, is averaging 18 points this season but has played in only 12 games after suffering a broken hand in an accident at his home on Oct. 2.
“I feel like I’m getting better and better every day,” said the 29-year-old Boozer, a nine-year NBA veteran in his first season with Chicago. “I’m still not where I want to be but I don’t think I’m too far away.”
The Wizards led by as many as eight in the third quarter but Chicago battled back behind Rose, who had 13 points in the frame, and led 73-70 with a period to play.
Chicago, which shot a horrid two of 16 from three-point range, opened the fourth quarter with an 8-3 run to take an 81-73 lead and the Wizards lacked the firepower to respond.
“As the game went along, our defense tightened up,” said Boozer. “We gave up 33 in the first quarter, in the fourth quarter we gave up 10.
“As the game progressed our defense became more and more like the Chicago Bulls’ defense. It was a grind-out win. We’ll take it and keep moving.”
With most of the attention focused on Boston and Miami, the Bulls (18-9) have risen to the third-best record in the East and are just 1.5 games behind the second-placed Heat.
“This group of guys has worked extremely hard since the start of training camp,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “We’re not where we want to be, we’re still striving to improve in a lot of different areas.
“But they’re great workers and have great team spirit. They’re trying to improve defensively. If you defend and rebound, particularly on the road, you’ll be in position to win. And that’s where we are.”
Washington, playing without injured point guard John Wall and reserve forward Yi Jianlian, failed in its bid to win consecutive games for the first time this season.
The backcourt shouldered most of the load for the Wizards, with Nick Young scoring 22 points and Kirk Hinrich adding 19 points while delivering nine assists.
Washington (7-20) failed to take advantage of the absence of Bulls center Joakim Noah, their leading rebounder, who is out of the line-up with a torn ligament in his right thumb.
The Wizards’ starting big men, JaVale McGee, Al Thornton and Andray Blatche shot a combined seven for 27, with McGee failing to score and Blatche, who blew a wide-open lay-up, totalling seven points on three of 14 shooting.
“I hope as a professional you don’t miss a lay-up two minutes into the game and you’re done for the next 46,” a frustrated Wizards coach Flip Saunders said of Blatche.
“He struggled tonight, there’s no question. He’s one of our main guys. He’s a young player. Part of development sometimes is getting your butt kicked.”
“You can learn as much when you play bad sometimes as when you play good.”