After getting blown out in back-to-back games, the Bulls were sort of given a free pass at redemption.
First, a challenging game at Indiana was snowed out. Maybe that will work out in the Bulls' favor if they can reschedule the game far enough into the future that Derrick Rose can play.
Next on the schedule was a visit from the Washington Wizards, who own the league's worst record, had to play Friday and didn't have top scorer Jordan Crawford against the Bulls because of an ankle injury.
Easy win, right? Not exactly. The Bulls did snap the two-game losing streak with an 87-77 victory at the United Center, but Washington was within 79-76 with 5:19 left after Emeka Okafor reached over Carlos Boozer to tip in a missed free throw.
Before gushing about the return of Richard Hamilton from a foot injury and a successful bench role by Marco Belinelli, coach Tom Thibodeau steered his postgame news conference toward the negatives.
For starters, the Bulls were outrebounded for the sixth time in eight games.
"Our rebounding is a problem right now," Thibodeau said. "Every time we got a double-digit lead, it seemed like we couldn't secure a rebound. We're doing a lot of tipping, and we've got to get back to being fundamental with our rebounding. We've got to rebound with two hands."
The list of non-problems included Hamilton's foot and Belinelli's return to a reserve role. Hamilton scored 9 points in 15 minutes and hit 4 of 9 shots from the field, including a 3-pointer.
"He can score in his sleep," Joakim Noah said. "Having Rip out there definitely helps."
The veteran shooting guard had been out since tearing the plantar fascia in his left foot Dec. 1. After the game, he admitted the foot is not completely pain free, but he doesn't think it will hinder his performance.
"I felt good. I was surprised how good I felt, especially in the second half," Hamilton said. "I thought the biggest part for me was stopping and going.
"With my style of play, I like to get underneath the basket and bang a little bit, then go one way and change direction and go the opposite way.
"That was the scary part for me coming into the game. I was like, 'I know I can shoot because we've been shooting in practice.' The biggest thing for me is being able to come off a screen and stop on a dime and get my shot off, and I was able to do that."
At the start of the season, Belinelli almost seemed invisible on the floor. He didn't do much, his teammates didn't look for him, and that's why he averaged just 5 points in a reserve role.
Stepping into the starting lineup in place of Hamilton, Belinelli averaged 15.3 points in 12 games.
On Saturday, he never hesitated. He fired jumpers, drove to the basket and even collected a pair of fastbreak dunks on the way to a team-high 17 points.
"I think it's his confidence," Thibodeau said. "When you're new to a team, I think he was trying to fit in, trying to learn the system. He's already proven to be a good player in this league, so you knew it was a matter of time.
"Once he had a better understanding of his teammates and his teammates had a better understanding of him, he's very good."
Once Washington (4-24) pulled within 3 points on Okafor's tip-in, Belinelli answered with a 3-pointer. The Wizards then scored their final point of the game on a Nene free throw with 4:47 on the clock.
Boozer (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler added jumpers to clinch the win.
Luol Deng sat out the final seven minutes, which is highly unusual. Thibodeau said he felt the lineup he had with Butler on the floor was playing well and he wanted to stick with it.