Chicago (18-9) at Washington (19-7)
December 23, 2014 at 7:00PM
Verizon Center, Washington, DC
Verizon Center, Washington, DC
John Wall vs. Derrick Rose
A to-be NBA MVP alongside a prized number 1 pick, to-be face of a franchise.
[Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images]
[Photo Rob Carr/Getty Images]
Tonight’s contest between the Chicago Bulls and your Washington Wizards features what should be considered the most meaningful matchup between Derrick Rose and John Wall. After all, this is their first head-to-head matchup since January 30, 2012, no thanks to Rose’s perpetually unstable health (still love you, D).
The Wizards faced the Bulls three times in that shortened season of 2012 but Rose played in just one of them. Faithful Wiz fans can recount the first of those three matchups being the infamous John Lucas III game where he dropped 25-8-8 out of no where and the Wizards totaled 64 points as a team.
But back to memory lane real quick. On that (presumably) frigid evening in January of 2012, the Bulls were in town flossing an 18-5 record against the lowly Wiz Kids who were fresh off the firing of their head coach and decaying away with a 4-17 record (2-2 with a newly appointed #WittmanFace doe). This was also my first season as a blogger so it’s safe to say the game and its then-Wizards Extreme coverage was an all around shit show. Rose dominated with 35 points on 20 shots, 14 of 15 from the line, eight assists, two steals, and three blocks, circulating waves of Derrick Rose “MVP” chants around the Verizon Center. Peak #SoWizards. A sophomore John Wall wasn’t so terrible, though, finishing with 20 points on 7-16 shooting, six assists and two steals. The Bulls won that game decisively 98-88.
Since that night, neither Derrick Rose, nor John Wall have been the same player. Rose has played in only 48 regular season games since, while Wall has emerged as an All-Star while merging into the same class as Rose as it pertains to point guard aristocracy. Wall’s development in so many areas of his game are noted and iterated often but tonight, his matchup against Rose will focus on one of his more paramount improvements: defense. Rose is basically your prototype point guard. While he’s an excellent facilitator and passer, the biggest threat he brings on the floor is his knack for scoring and the fact that he can do so from anywhere on the court. And with Joakim Noah screening and rolling, defensive concepts are critical for John. Wall has to mount himself in front of Rose, fight through screens and avoid giving Rose any comfortable space to shoot the ball. Also, the Wizards cannot afford to create any mismatches because not only does Rose have the ability to beat any defender off the dribble, Noah can also roll to the rim like not many others can. Besides the prowess of Rose, the Bulls present a very physical style of play, something the Wizards need to bear in mind after a demoralizing loss in which their game was dictated by the Suns’ physicality. That simply cannot be the case again tonight against a team like Chicago.
No love lost. The Wizards and Bulls have embarked on quite the entertaining rivalry. This, of course, a rivalry that began to unravel during last season’s first-round playoff series, won by the Wizards in five games. It was also the same time the Wizards began to establish their prominence in the Eastern Conference and there was no better way to do it than with Nene dismantling Joakim Noah in that series just after Noah had earned the Defensive Player of the Year honors. Nene played just four of the five games in that series due to a one-game suspension after a skirmish that broke out between him and Jimmy Butler. And of course we all remember how it ended, with #NeneHands being used as a vice around Butler’s head. For the series, Nene shot 34-for-62 from the field, averaging 17.8 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Toggle a bit further down the timeline and we’ll find the disdain between the two teams continuing to blossom when a meaningless preseason game turned into a melee at half court, ending with Paul Pierce prancing with his dukes up at Joakim Noah. This, of course, subsequent to Pierce’s infamous forehead-poke, subsequent to Pierce’s hard foul on Jimmy Butler. The biggest losers: Nene and DeJuan Blair, who were suspended for leaving the bench during the whole fiasco. This was all eventually marked as a tactical measure taken by Pierce to help establish a more tough-nosed presence for the Wizards against opposing Eastern Conference contenders, while setting an example for his teammates to follow suit. Sure, it wasn’t the brainiest move, but I wouldn’t be surprised if players form both teams have that sequence of events lodged in the back of their heads as they prepare for tonight.
The Bulls come in to DC tonight just a game and a half behind the Wizards at 18-7. They have won three straight games and six of their last seven and are coming off a 49-point 4th quarter bombardment against the Raptors last night in Chicago. Rose scored 15 of those points, finishing with 29. The Bulls’ biggest improvement this season, and a surprising one, is the emergence of Jimmy Butler as a scorer. Better known as one of the premiere defenders in the league, Butler has lifted the Bulls offensively, averaging 22.1 points per game and shooting at a 49% clip from the field and 35% from downtown. He had 27 last night in the win against the Raptors.
The Bulls will unquestionably be a handful tonight for Wall and the Wizards. While Rose and Butler hold down the backcourt, Paul Gasol and Noah man the inside and they’ve got one other person, too. Oh yeah, Mike Dunleavy. Yeah, he’s pretty good at shooting 3’s (.402 this season).
The Wizards, meanwhile, were humbled by the Suns on Sunday evening. Though they made plays sporadically throughout the game just enough to refrain from getting blown out, the Wizards succumbed to the Suns’ physicality and in turn, lost all their offensive mojo as they finished with a season-low of 11 assists. The Wizards allowed a ton of second chance opportunities in the first half which helped establish the Suns’ eternal momentum, and were caught off guard by the forceful pace the Suns were attacking with. I tweeted after the game that losses like the one to Phoenix could be beneficial in the long term, possibly as a measure to help drop some of their bad habits and create better ones.
For the Wizards to succeed, it’s all a matter of playing like “who they are“:
- Controlling the pace, moving in transition and keeping the Bulls on their heels.
- Moving the ball in the halfcourt, moving WITHOUT the ball *ppering at you Bradley Beal*, attacking the rim and getting open 3’s.
- Making plays on defense, getting rebounds and creating turnovers. This is when the Wizards are at their prime during games, making it very tough to beat them.