In a battle between Eastern Conference foes, the Chicago Bulls will travel to play the Washington Wizards. This game will have severe postseason ramifications, as the Bulls look to move up into fourth and avoid falling back into sixth.
Just don't sell the Wizards short.
Entering this game, the Wizards are 27-46 and 20-17 at home. They rank eighth in rebounding and sixth in scoring defense.
More importantly, the Wizards are 22-18 since John Wall returned to the lineup—they were 5-28 without him.
The Bulls, meanwhile, are 40-32 overall and 19-16 on the road. They're seventh in rebounding, fifth in assists and third in scoring defense.
The question is, which of these defensive powerhouses will win?
Time: Tuesday, April 2, at 7 p.m. EDT
TV: CSN Chicago and CSN Washington
Records: Chicago Bulls (40-32, 19-16 road) at Washington Wizards (27-46, 20-17 home)
Betting Line: N/A
Chicago Bulls Injury Report
Marco Belinelli, Abdominal Strain, Questionable
Richard Hamilton, Back Spasms, Doubtful
Joakim Noah, Plantar Fasciitis, Questionable
Washington Wizards Injury Report
Leandro Barbosa, Torn ACL, Out
Jason Collins, Flu, Questionable
Nene Hilario, Knee Soreness, Doubtful
Key Storyline: Battle of the Defensive Elite
Oftentimes, we confuse a team's win-loss record with its ability to perform at an elite level in any individual area. That's the case with the Washington Wizards, as they've become one of the best defensive teams in the NBA.
The Wizards rank sixth in scoring defense, fourth in opponent field-goal percentage and eighth in opponent three-point field-goal percentage.
As for the Bulls, with or without Derrick Rose, they're a dominant defensive unit. Chicago is third in scoring defense, seventh in opponent field-goal percentage and fourth in opponent three-point field-goal percentage.
That beckons just one question—which team will produce enough offense to secure the W?
Key Matchup: Luol Deng vs. Martell Webster
Luol Deng has made two consecutive All-Star Game appearances. He's one of the most respected perimeter defenders in the NBA, has developed into a powerful offensive threat and has a knack for coming up when the Bulls need him most.
Matched up against the Washington Wizards, he'll have his hands full with Martell Webster.
Webster may not have realized the star potential many had projected for him, but he remains an active defender. With his length and athleticism, Webster has found a way to make a major impact on defense.
If you don't believe that, just check the previously supplied numbers to prove Washington's defense as elite.
Webster's length and quickness should enable him to frustrate Deng defensively. This could force the Bulls to look elsewhere for offense, which has been an issue.
The winner of this positional battle could determine the outcome.
X-Factor: Emeka Okafor, Washington Wizards
As previously stated in the injury report, Joakim Noah is questionable due to plantar fasciitis. With or without Noah in the rotation, one thing is perfectly clear.
The Wizards will need center Emeka Okafor to make a powerful contribution.
Okafor has been solid for the Wizards, averaging 9.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 26.4 minutes. Even as he ages and loses his athletic burst, Okafor has found a way to make a two-way contribution for the Wizards.
They'll need all of that and more if they're to take down the Bulls.
Okafor is capable of posting a double-double, as he's tallied 19 in 2012-13. Most encouraging of all is the fact that Okafor enters this game on the heels of a 19-point and 10-rebound performance against the Toronto Raptors.
Washington will need an Act II.
The Chicago Bulls enter this game as the favorites to win based off of perception alone. The fact of the matter is, the Washington Wizards are an elite defensive team that rests above .500 at home.
Who will win?
So which team will emerge victorious? Believe it or not, that will be the Wizards.
It's all about John Wall.
Since Wall returned to the rotation, the Wizards are 22-18. They've won seven of their past 11 and have clamped down on numerous elite opponents while on defense.
Matched up against Chicago, the Wizards will be able to compete defensively. With Wall on the offensive end, the Wizards will be able to overcome the Bulls on that end.
It won't be a pretty game, but Wall will lead the Wizards to victory.
Washington Wizards 93, Chicago Bulls 88