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updated: 1/13/2014 11:21 PM

Bulls fail to reach .500 against Wizards

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  • Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, left, battles Washington Wizards forward Nene during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Chicago.

      Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, left, battles Washington Wizards forward Nene during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, in Chicago.
    Associated Press

 
 

The crowd wasn't into it, there wasn't much intensity. But by Eastern Conference standards, Monday's Bulls-Wizards clash qualified as playoff atmosphere.

Yes, both teams are sub-.500, but they are the No. 5 and 6 playoff seeds in the East at the moment. In fact, it's a dead heat, with the teams even in the standings after Washington snapped the Bulls' five-game win streak with a 102-88 victory at the United Center on Monday.

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They hadn't lost since trading top scorer Luol Deng to Cleveland, but the magic evaporated in this one. Washington jumped out to an 8-0 lead and never trailed.

After falling behind by as many as 15 points, the Bulls (17-19) got within 5 a couple of times, but the Wizards were always able to answer with a wide-open 3-pointer or two and pull away quickly. The Bulls are now 0-8 on the season when giving up 100 points.

"I thought they got their confidence early against us and it's hard to shut a team off once they get going," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I didn't think we had an edge tonight."

Thibodeau may not agree, but it's impossible for a short-handed team like the Bulls to play with fabulous intensity every night. The teams with talented scorers, that don't need to supply maximum intensity to win, are the ones that inevitably finish at the front of the pack.

It remains to be seen whether this was a dose of reality or just a bump in the road for the Bulls. There are more winnable games in store this week, with Orlando on Wednesday, a rematch with Washington on Friday and a visit from Philadelphia on Saturday.

"I thought we could have been a lot more focused," Taj Gibson said. "Games like this, it's kind of like a wake-up call. It humbles you. Right when you're feeling too good about yourself, you're feeling invincible, a team comes in there and smacks you and wakes you up to reality.

"I don't think we ran out of emotion. I just think at times our defense fell short."

Defense was an obvious drawback for the Bulls. They started the night ranked third in the league in defensive field-goal percentage at .426, then watched the Wizards shoot 52 percent from the field.

"In this league, you let a guy get into rhythm, you're in trouble," Thibodeau said. "I didn't think we were anywhere near (Washington's shooters). Your body position is so important in this league. If you're not on the body and you get hit with a screen before you make contact, you're dead. You're behind the play."

Carlos Boozer led the Bulls with 19 points, while Joakim Noah grabbed 16 rebounds -- his ninth straight game in double figures. Washington power forward Nene answered Noah's challenge with 19 points and several big dunks.

"I think overall, our intensity was pretty good," Noah said. "I think we just didn't hit shots we usually make. We're definitely capable of playing a lot better.

"We come back and play them again on Friday. We'll be ready for that game."

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