Tagged in: wizards

Bulls complete sweep of Hornets in LaVine’s return, 120-99

For one night, the Chicago Bulls looked like a playoff-worthy team.

The return of Zach LaVine to the floor certainly had something to do with the Bulls’ inspired effort, which ended a four-game skid.

Nikola Vucevic had 29 points and 14 rebounds, LaVine had 13 points after missing 11 matches due to the league’s health and safety protocols, and the Bulls swept the season series from the Charlotte Hornets with a 120-99 victory on Thursday night.

“It definitely opened up some things for us,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said of LaVine’s return.

Said Vucevic: “We’re happy to have him back. We played a great game and that helped motivating us and getting us ready to play knowing he was back. So hopefully we will continue to play that way.”

Chicago is a long shot to make the postseason, still 3 1/2 games behind Washington for the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.

The Bulls have six games left; the Wizards have five. LaVine said he felt “really tired” after the long layoff and wanted to make sure he didn’t try to do too much.

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“I told (my teammates), don’t expect me to try to go get 40 (points) the first night,” LaVine said.

LaVine averaged more than 30 points in his five previous games before being sidelined, but mostly deferred to his teammates in the first three quarters, attempting six shots. But he started to show his scoring ability with back-to-back jump shots to start the fourth quarter before Donovan took him out after 27 minutes of action.

“I thought there was a lot more opportunities for him to shoot the ball, and to try to go score and attack,” Donovan said.

“But with him being out three weeks and the respect he has for his teammates, and I think he just tried to fit in and take the shots that were there and not try to force things.”

P.J. Washington, who missed Charlotte’s last game for the birth of his child, had 24 points on six 3-pointers. 

Malik Monk added 20 points off the bench for the Hornets, who played without Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham.

Charlotte could have clinched a spot in the play-in tournament had it won.

But Vucevic would have none of it. He returned after missing two games with right adductor tightness and dominated. Looking fresh, he made 12 of 24 shots from the field and was 5 of 7 from 3-point range, helping opening things up for his teammates.

“I think they just played harder than us every time we played them,” Washington said. “For us, it’s just about defense at the end of the day. We have to stop teams from getting offensive rebounds and easy second-chance points.”

The Bulls, who beat the Hornets by 13 and 17 points in the two previous meetings, jumped out to a 48-33 lead this time.

It appeared Charlotte might make a game of it after hitting 8 of 13 3-point attempts in the second quarter to cut the lead to five, but the Bulls extended their lead to 22 entering the fourth quarter.

“We’ve struggled with Chicago all year,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “Give them credit. For whatever reason, the matchup does not fit our group.”

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Washington Wizards teammates laud Russell Westbrook’s ‘great’ overall impact in his debut

Russell Westbrook drove the lane, found Thomas Bryant open for an easy dunk as the Washington Wizards’ big man drew a foul and then immediately ran to Bryant to scream his approval.

In his first match with the Wizards, Westbrook logged only 17 first-half minutes in Washington’s 99-96 triumph over the Detroit Pistons. But his impact was felt with his energy, pace and ability to get the ball moving and draw the defense’s attention.

“You could see in the first half really how many open shots we got,” Wizards forward Davis Bertans said of Westbrook’s impact. “And how many good looks we had and it was all I would say Russ.

“He set the tone for driving and kicking … I am pretty sure it is going to get better from here.” After being held out of the Wizards’ first two preseason games, Westbrook played in the team’s final tuneup before the regular-season opener at Philadelphia on Dec. 23. Westbrook ended with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and shot 4-for-10, including 0-for-3 from behind the arc.

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“It was good,” Westbrook said of his first game as a Wizard. “We won, the most important part … I like where we were tonight.

“My job is to try to set the tone. Have them be ready to play.”

The Wizards saw Westbrook’s encouragement on offense in the ability Bradley Beal had to work one-on-one against defenders and how much the Wizards tried to push the pace. Washington led by as much as 16 and had 10 fast-break points in the first half when Westbrook played.

“It just felt great,” Beal said of playing with Westbrook. “It was great energy … I don’t think it will be tough as people are trying to make it out to be. We both do a really good job off of feeding off of each other, just adjusting to how each other plays.

“The most important thing is his pace and energy he brings to the table … it just works out well. We just continue to play off each other, feed off each other and push each other.”

While Beal missed all seven of his 3-point attempts, he scored 15 points and hit seven field goals.

Beal averaged 30.5 points last campaign but drew the majority of the opposing defense’s attention as the Wizards’ lone star.

“Our job is to make the game easier for him,” Westbrook said. “Find a way to constantly feed him the ball so he can score at a high rate. He has shown he is able to do that. He is going to be great. I am not worried about Brad one bit.”

Bryant benefited from the attention Westbrook drew, scoring 22 points and making 7 of 12 shots. And Wizards coach Scott Brooks loved seeing an animated Westbrook celebrating Bryant’s dunk with the foul and encouraging the big man in the first quarter.

“Really good,” Brooks said when asked about Westbrook’s first preseason action. “He’s been looking like that all training camp. His spirit is about winning, not about stats. He plays the right way and teaches our young fellas the right things. He’s great. “He’s nothing short of spectacular, what he tells the guys, how he coaches his teammates and they listen. What he’s done, how he prepares and how he trains and how he looks at the game is priceless.”

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NBA suspends Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo 1 game for headbutting

Giannis Antetokounmpo let his emotions get the best of him on Tuesday, and the reigning MVP is paying the price for it. In a tense second quarter between his Milwaukee Bucks and the Washington Wizards, Giannis, who had been fouled several times, finally lost his temper after a charge call.

The Bucks called timeout, but Antetokounmpo, in his frustration, delivered a headbutt to Wizards big man Moe Wagner. He was called for a flagrant-2 foul and ejected.

As a result of the head shot, the NBA is suspending the Greek Freak for the Bucks’ final seeding game Thursday versus the Memphis Grizzlies, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Antetokounmpo was remorseful in his actions when speaking to the media after the game. “Terrible action,” Antetokounmpo said. “If I could go back and turn back time and go back to that play, I wouldn’t do it. But at the end of the day, we’re all human, we all make mistakes.

I think I’ve done a great job all year, in my career, of keeping my composure and focusing on the game, but like I said, we’re human, we make mistakes. But at the end of the day, learn from it, keep playing good basketball and keep moving forward.”

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In relation to why he reacted that way, the reigning MVP said that he was responding to what he felt was a build-up of emotion over the course of the game. While Wagner received the brunt of Antetokounmpo’s frustration, he wasn’t necessarily angry with him.

“I don’t think I was frustrated with Wagner,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think it was just the whole, like, build-up of dirty plays in my mind. Guys tripping me, guys falling in front of my feet, holding me, hitting me. It wasn’t just — I don’t have nothing against Wagner, it wasn’t just him.”

The ejection was the third of Antetokounmpo’s regular-season career and fourth overall. Based on historical precedent, Antetokounmpo’s one-game suspension was expected. Hasheem Thabeet (2013) and Kevin Garnett (2015) both headbutted opposing players and were suspended for their team’s next game.

Milwaukee’s next game comes versus Memphis as the Grizzlies desperately try to fight their way into the play-in tournament for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. 

Milwaukee has nothing to play for having long-since clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, so losing Antetokounmpo for a game has no bearing on its playoff future. But the Bucks have struggled to get into a rhythm in Orlando due to a combination of rest- and coronavirus-induced absences.

They will have a relatively easy first-round series versus the Magic in which they can hopefully regain the momentum they’ve lost, but after that, they will have to win three very difficult series versus fellow contenders. 

Now Antetokounmpo loses his final tune-up game with the Bucks. They didn’t exactly need this win, but getting him those minutes on the court would have been valuable.

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