With 49.2 percent of their offense in the training room, the Bulls were able to hold on for a 97-92 victory against the struggling Washington Wizards.
Nikola Mirotic led the Bulls with 23 points and eight rebounds. Aaron Brooks added 22 and a season-high eight assists. Pau Gasol finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds for his league-leading 39th double-double. Joakim Noah added 14 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots.
At a time where their depth has taken a hit, the Bulls seemed to recall the next-man-up attitude that they were so successful with the previous two seasons.
“It’s a collective effort,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You can’t replace Derrick (Rose), Jimmy (Butler), or Taj (Gibson) individually. You have to do it as a team. The [games] are going to keep coming and they’re all tough. We’re going to need a lot of resiliency and a lot of fight.”
There was no shortage of intensity between the two teams that squared off in the first round of last season’s playoffs.
“They’re the team that eliminated us last year in the playoffs,” Noah said. “When that happens, even subconsciously, it’s more than just a basketball game.”
One day after saying he hated the Bulls, Washington’s Nene was frustrated into the first scoreless night of his 13-year career before fouling out in the fourth period. Nene even drew a flagrant-one foul for delivering a hard foul to Noah.
The Wizards had their chances, but could not contain the pick and roll in the fourth and Bradley Beal missed a 3-pointer with less than a minute remaining that would have tied the game at 94. Mirotic would be fouled and split his trip to the line to extend the lead to four.
For Mirotic, it was his eighth point in the period and just like in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, he is relishing in the opportunity for being a go-to guy when baskets are needed in the fourth.
“He’s playing great,” Brooks said. “Making the right play, making the right reads. Every game it seems he gets smarter. He had the game, it’s just adjusting it to the NBA.”
The game featured the 20th different starting lineup for the Bulls, who will finish their seven-game homestand on Thursday when they host the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As Thibodeau said, the games are going to keep coming and the Bulls are going to have to keep scratching, clawing and finding a way to win.
“We have great depth,” Mike Dunleavy said. “We have guys who can step in and fill in. In some ways, tonight was an easy one. Everyone was emotional and ready to play, but we have a lot of games ahead of us coming up. We are going to have to produce the same way in order to keep winning games.