Two teams that opened with impressive road wins move on to the nation’s capital when the Chicago Bulls visit the Washington Wizards on Friday night.
DeMar DeRozan exploded for 37 points while Nikola Vucevic put up a 15-point, 17-rebound double-double as the Bulls traveled to Miami and surprised the defending Eastern Conference regular-season champs 116-108 on Wednesday.
While Chicago was sampling the Southeast Division, the Wizards ventured into Central Division territory and took care of business against the Indiana Pacers, riding 23 points from Bradley Beal and 22 from Kyle Kuzma to a 114-107 triumph.
The fast start is nothing new to either team. The Bulls won their first four games en route to a 26-10 start last season, while the Wizards used a 2-0 season debut as a springboard to a 10-3 start.
Neither team had high expectations opening the new campaign. The Bulls are already down two key players, with Zach LaVine being eased into the season after suffering a left-knee injury last January while Lonzo Ball continues to struggle with the after-effects of a meniscus tear in his left knee.
Neither was needed in the opener. Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso jumped into the starting lineup with a combined 23 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and four steals, while Goran Dragic (12 points) and Coby White (10) provided backcourt depth.
Coincidentally, the trip to Washington, D.C., for Dosunmu comes four days after he shared a Chicago stage with former president Barack Obama at an Obama Foundation event for high-schoolers.
“He told me to always get better,” Dosunmu said of career advice he got from Obama. “Anything you do … there’s going to be hard times, there’s going to be good times. Just keep it going, never stop.”
That was a key for the Bulls in general in the opener against the Heat, who had handled Chicago on all four occasions last season. Chicago fell behind by as many as nine early Wednesday, but rode DeRozan’s big scoring night to a total of 68 points in the middle two quarters en route to the come-from-behind win.
The Bulls were at their offensive best against the Wizards last season, averaging 119.0 points and sweeping three games, including two at Washington. DeRozan had 32- and 28-point nights among the three wins, while Vucevic averaged a double-double.
The Wizards have made some changes since the clubs last met in March. Most significantly, they imported Monte Morris and Will Barton from the Denver Nuggets.
They combined for 21 points, eight rebounds and nine assists in complementary roles in the season opener, with Beal (9-for-17 shooting), Kuzma (13 rebounds to complete a double-double) and Kristaps Porzingis (15 points, 10 rebounds) doing much of the heavy lifting against the Pacers.
Beal loved the fact it didn’t take his own 30-point night in order for this year’s team to be successful.
“Love Kuz’s aggression. He’s constantly getting better,” Beal said. “And (Porzingis) is a unicorn. His size is unmatched. His touch is unmatched. We’re going to need both of them to continue to make our strides.”
–Field Level Media