WASHINGTON — Up-and-comers? Maybe.

But on Saturday, the Washington Wizards look very much like a team of up-and-pretenders.

Then again, the Bulls’ defense will do that to teams. Even teams that are playoff bound and had beaten the Bulls in two previous meetings this season.

“We wanted to throw the first punch and I think we did a good job with that,’’ All-Star center Joakim Noah said. “From the beginning of the game I think we were the more aggressive team, and usually the more aggressive team wins.’’

In this case, wins by a lot, as the Bulls (45-32) beat Washington 96-78 at the Verizon Center.

“Credit them,’’ Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “They came out and jumped on us right away. Either we were surprised or we weren’t ready for the intensity they came out and played with.’’

Maybe both, considering the Bulls jumped out to a 28-16 first-quarter lead, and then took a 52-26 lead into the locker room. Not exactly the 100.7 points per game the Wizards usually average.

And the Bulls players loved every stranglehold minute of it.

“Yeah, they were [ticked],’’ Taj Gibson said. “They were taking shots that they normally don’t take. We were taking away the long half-court passes, the cross-court passes. We were double-teaming a couple of their strong shooters, and it worked out well. We were trying to frustrate them and we did.’’

So while the game-high 25 points from D.J. Augustin was nice, especially with the reserve guard hitting six threes, it was about shutting down the backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal that had Bulls players smiling.

“I mean, it just gives us so much confidence,’’ Noah said. “I mean we lock up defensively, you can go out on the break, and it gives you opportunities to be more free on offense, knowing our defense is so good.’’

It also made the two earlier losses to the Wizards in January seem long ago, especially as the teams eye a potential playoff matchup.

“We beat them twice, we know we can beat them,’’ Wittman said. “[Saturday] they were the better team. There’s no question about that and I think you can gain a lot from this. Sometimes you can gain some things from losing a game like this and that’s what I want our guys to do.’’

That’s fine with the Bulls, who don’t mind giving lessons to young teams on the rise, especially if it means a ‘W’ at the end of the night.

“It’s good for us, but we get criticized when we don’t score, our offense is stagnant, but we can really dominate teams just with our defense alone,’’ Gibson said. “I think our defense was great. We smothered them on all cylinders.’’

And if the teams do meet in the playoffs? Well, Saturday wasn’t a statement as much as an exclamation point.

“It really doesn’t matter who we see [in the playoffs],’’ Gibson said. “It’s all about playing our style, let them think about us. We’re ready for grind-it-out style of games, we’re ready for playoff-style games. We experienced this, so we’re ready.’’

Email: jcowley@suntimes.com

BULLS 96, WIZARDS 78

BULLS 28 24 24 20 — 96

Washington 16 10 35 17 — 78

BULLS MIN FG-A FT-A O-T A PF PTS

Dunleavy 32:17 3-8 2-2 0-7 2 3 8

Boozer 24:00 6-12 4-4 1-4 1 2 16

Noah 36:14 9-13 3-3 4-12 3 3 21

Hinrich 28:08 4-6 0-0 0-2 5 1 11

Butler 41:39 1-9 1-2 2-6 9 1 3

Gibson 27:24 3-8 3-4 4-7 0 1 9

Augustin 29:58 8-19 3-4 0-4 4 0 25

Mohammed 6:32 0-0 0-0 0-1 0 2 0

Snell 8:42 0-1 1-2 0-2 0 1 1

Fredette 3:16 0-1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Shengelia 1:50 1-2 0-0 0-0 0 0 2

Totals 240:00 35-79 17-21 11-45 24 14 96

Percentages: FG .443, FT .810. 3-Point Goals: 9-23, .391 (Augustin 6-11, Hinrich 3-4, Snell 0-1, Dunleavy 0-3, Butler 0-4). Team Rebounds: 12. Team Turnovers: 11 (17 PTS). Blocked Shots: 4 (Gibson 2, Mohammed, Noah). Turnovers: 10 (Dunleavy 3, Boozer 2, Butler 2, Gibson, Mohammed, Noah). Steals: 7 (Augustin 2, Boozer 2, Dunleavy, Hinrich, Snell). Technical Fouls: Butler, 0:21.9 second.

WIZARDS MIN FG-A FT-A O-T A PF PTS

Ariza 29:43 1-9 0-0 3-7 0 1 2

Booker 26:37 3-9 0-0 1-5 1 2 6

Gortat 35:56 8-11 3-4 2-8 0 3 19

Wall 36:09 8-17 2-3 0-3 6 3 20

Beal 38:24 7-16 0-2 2-3 5 2 14

Gooden 21:39 2-5 0-0 1-4 0 3 4

Webster 17:14 1-4 0-0 1-3 1 3 2

Porter Jr 7:23 2-4 0-0 2-3 1 0 5

Harrington 4:53 0-2 0-0 0-1 1 2 0

Miller 8:35 0-3 0-0 0-0 0 0 0

Seraphin 6:55 1-3 0-0 2-2 1 0 2

Temple 3:16 1-2 1-1 0-0 0 0 3

Singleton 3:16 0-1 1-2 0-1 0 0 1

Totals 240:00 34-86 7-12 14-40 16 19 78

Percentages: FG .395, FT .583. 3-Point Goals: 3-16, .188 (Wall 2-4, Porter Jr. 1-2, Gooden 0-1, Harrington 0-1, Webster 0-2, Ariza 0-3, Beal 0-3). Team Rebounds: 8. Team Turnovers: 12 (13 PTS). Blocked Shots: 4 (Booker 2, Ariza, Seraphin). Turnovers: 11 (Gortat 4, Ariza, Beal, Booker, Miller, Porter Jr., Wall, Webster). Steals: 6 (Ariza 2, Beal 2, Harrington, Webster). Technical Fouls: Ariza, 0:21.9 second.

A—19,661 (20,308). T—1:59. Officials—Zach Zarba, Matt Boland, Mark Lindsay.