The Chicago Bulls have an opportunity to grab sole possession of the Eastern Conference’s top spot when they take on the Washington Wizards.
The Bulls have been on fire as of late, and their 12th consecutive home victory would put them ahead of the Boston Celtics with just 17 games remaining in the season.
Chicago (47-18) has won 13 of 15 overall and has not lost at the United Center since Jan. 18. In the midst of their longest home winning stretch since a 17-game run Nov. 14, 1997-Jan. 21, 1998, during the franchise’s last NBA championship season, the Bulls beat Utah 118-100 on Saturday while celebrating the 20th anniversary of the club’s first title.
“We’re definitely not even close to where they were, but we’re trying to get there,” said forward Luol Deng, who had 26 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
The Bulls look to continue their progression with a seventh straight victory to sweep the four-game season series with Washington (16-49), which has lost four in a row overall and is 1-29 on the road.
A victory would give the Bulls a one-half game lead over Boston in the East.
“Everything that’s happened so far is because of hard work, and we’ve got to keep doing it,” said forward Joakim Noah, who has 40 points and 20 boards in two games against the Wizards this season.
Chicago has worked hard at home, going 29-4 and allowing an average of 85.5 points while winning 19 of 20 at the United Center. The Jazz ended the Bulls’ streak of 19 straight home games of giving up fewer than 100 points.
Washington has averaged 84.3 points and shot 39.6 percent against Chicago overall this season.
With injured starters Andray Blatche (shoulder) and Rashard Lewis (knee) possibly out for this contest, the Wizards could find it even tougher to score against one of the league’s top defensive teams.
The Wizards have been outscored by a combined 67 points the last three games.
Without Blatche and Lewis, Washington shot 39.4 percent in a 116-89 home loss to Oklahoma City on Monday.
“I know it’s tough to look at for a lot of people,” Washington coach Flip Saunders said. “It’s tough to coach. Growing pains are extremely difficult.”
Trevor Booker had 14 points with 13 rebounds while rookie John Wall added 14 with seven boards, five assists and four steals. Wall has 25 points and 16 assists in two games against All-Star Derrick Rose and the Bulls.
Rose and Deng each had 21 points in Chicago’s 105-77 win at Washington on Feb. 28.
Rose, averaging 25.5 points the last six games against the Wizards, had 26 on Saturday as the Bulls shot 52.6 percent and set a franchise record by making 18 of 32 3-pointers.
“They’re playing championship-caliber basketball right now,” Utah guard Devin Harris said. “Derrick is playing great leading those guys and everyone else is playing their role and doing it well.
Carlos Boozer has played a big role in his first season for the Bulls, but is expected to miss a third straight game with a sprained left ankle.
Chicago is 13-7 without Boozer, who hopes to return within the week according to coach Tom Thibodeau.
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