Reality sinking in for Bulls


WASHINGTON -- There comes a point in most every playoff series when both teams know who's better. Bulls- Wizards pretty much reached that point four minutes into Game 4, when Washington's Trevor Ariza hit a 3-pointer to give the Wizards a two-touchdown lead at 14-0.

The Bulls got within 24-18, but the Wizards pushed to 32-18. The Bulls got within 36-30 only to have the Wizards extend to 52-36. And the pattern continued right through the fourth quarter; the Wizards' first-round flurry held up.

The Bulls could never get truly close, could never protect the ball against the Wizards defense, could never figure out a way to exploit the absence of suspended Nene Hilario and, most important, could never find a way to offset the skill of a more talented opponent.

These adversaries have developed more than respect for each other through four games; it's bordering on admiration. The Wizards love the Bulls' tenacity and resourcefulness. The Bulls, while they wouldn't dare say so publicly, have to be a little jealous of all the speed and quickness on the other side, particularly the young explosive backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The lasting image of Game 4 is likely that of Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin trying to get away, unsuccessfully, from Beal or Wall. Hinrich missed 9 of 12 shots and Augustin missed 7 of 10. Beal and Wall didn't set the world on fire (combined 11-for-28), but they passed the ball well, protected it even better and defended with attitude.

You want the only number that matters from Game 4? The Wizards committed a grand total of six turnovers, while the Bulls' point guards, Hinrich and Augustin, committed six all by themselves. The Bulls, in all, turned it over 16 times, and most of them were forced mistakes.

The Wizards have evolved to a point of athletic arrogance at which  they know they're better than the opponent, meaning there's nothing the Bulls can do about certain physical realities. Beal, still 20 years old, had the kind of honesty self-check that, if done regularly, can help a good player become a great one soon enough. After getting torched by Mike Dunleavy for a career-high 35 points in Game 3 that led the Bulls to their only win of the series, Beal said, "I took that matchup pretty personally ... the way he scored 35 the last game. I took it as a personal grudge. He killed us the last game."

And Beal won the weekend rematch decisively: 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting, five rebounds, three assists, one turnover in 40 minutes. Dunleavy in 35 minutes? Six points, five rebounds, two assists, no 3-pointers. None. Zero. Dunleavy was even less of a factor than Carlos Boozer, who in 24 minutes had three baskets and five fouls in a waste-of-time performance.

The Wizards figured out between Games 3 and 4 that despite Friday night's loss they are the physically superior team, that they can guard the Bulls but the Bulls cannot guard them, and that if they come out and seize the lead, there isn't much the Bulls can do about it.

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