WASHINGTON — There was fight in the second half, even a sense of urgency. The idea that losing Dwyane Wade to injury would mean a lot more of Paul Zipser than anyone really wanted to see, along with a fade into the offseason . . . well, that just wasn’t a case for the Bulls on Friday night.
But in the end, moral victories don’t mean squat in an NBA playoff race in mid-March.
Jimmy Butler missed what would have been a game-tying three-pointer in the final seconds as the Bulls fell 112-107 to the Washington Wizards. They’re losers of seven of their last eight games and are two spots out in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Though the Bulls (32-37) outscored the Wizards (42-26) by 14 points in the second half, it didn’t change the underlying problem of this team understanding 48 minutes of winning basketball.
“We were just lazy,” Butler said of the first half, which ended with the Bulls trailing 59-40. “And I hate this word — and soft. I hate it. But that’s exactly what we were. They beat us to every 50-50 ball, whooped our tail in transition, and we turned the ball over. All of the things we talked about all year long, we replayed in that first half. And then we decided to play some better basketball.”
That came after some coaxing from coach Fred Hoiberg, who admitted he “challenged’’ his players “loudly” at halftime.
While it’s usually not in Hoiberg’s character to yell at players, the Bulls turned the ball over 12 times in the first half and were outrebounded 27-23.
Butler confirmed that Hoiberg raised the volume at halftime and that the players understood exactly what they’d failed to do.
“Loud or not, we’re the ones out there playing,” Butler said. “We know what we’re doing. He can come in here and not say anything and we know what we’re supposed to be doing. You don’t gotta yell. We are grown men. We know how we dug ourselves a hole, what we weren’t doing. We’ve been doing it all year. He didn’t have to come in here and yell. He did. Maybe he hit a switch. We played better in the second half. Hopefully he doesn’t have to yell anymore and we start playing better from the jump.”
Until the Bulls can fix their inconsistency and bottle what they did in the second half — especially with Wade (right elbow) sidelined for the rest of the regular season — it’s all talk. Butler finished with 28 points, while the Wizards’ John Wall had 14 points and a career-best 20 assists. Now it’s about what the Bulls can do with 13 games left.
Asked if there could be a carry-over from Friday’s second half, Butler said, “That’s all we can do is hope. I don’t see that we learned our lesson from doing it over and over again, digging ourselves a hole, fighting back, making it a game. If you don’t put yourself in that position from the jump, it’s a whole different game overall.
“What’s crazy is we’ve done that all year long. I figure that we’d get tired of it. But I don’t know. I guess we like playing that way.”
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