Bulls watch spark fizzle out in embarrassing loss to Wizards


WASHINGTON — Halftime in Minnesota last month was supposed to be the spark.

It was the moment the players finally got in each other’s faces, got real with one another and came out the other side brothers, a team, maybe for the first time this season.

“It woke us up,’’ Bulls center Nikola Vucevic said Wednesday afternoon. “It was a hit in the face like, ‘Come on now, this is really bad.’ It started there, but then once you start winning games, it’s easier to figure out. Guys are also more comfortable talking to each other, more accountable, more receptive to what’s being said — positive or fair criticism.’’

But then Vucevic issued a warning.

“That doesn’t mean we’ve arrived,’’ he said. “There’s still a ways to go.’’

Vucevic found out just how much hours later.

Despite missing Bradley Beal, Daniel Gafford and Kristaps Porzingis, the Wizards overcame a 16-point deficit and beat the Bulls 100-97 at the Capital One Arena.

With DeMar DeRozan (right quadriceps) sidelined, Zach LaVine had a chance to play hero at the end, but there was so much more that went wrong than LaVine’s failed attempt.

LaVine had put the Bulls (19-23) in position to pull it out late, making a ridiculous three-pointer with 30 seconds left to tie the score. Kyle Kuzma had an answer, however, hitting a three with six seconds left that forced coach Billy Donovan into a timeout to draw up a play.

The play was designed for LaVine, who caught the inbounds pass, to take the three, look for Vucevic for three or Coby White. The Wizards (18-24) also had a foul to give, so Donovan warned his players.

LaVine took a dribble, felt like Delon Wright fouled him, split the double-team and took the two, hoping he would get the basket and the foul for the three-point play and the tie.

Two problems: He missed the shot and never got the whistle.

“We were just trying to get a three off,’’ LaVine said. “And then when I went in to go for a pull-up [jumper], Wright fouled me. My instinct was to go up and try to get a three-point play. I was going for a pull-up when he fouled me. I shot it. They didn’t call it. And that’s how it is.’’

Vucevic did throw his arms in the air for LaVine, feeling like he was open when Monte Morris sagged off him and toward LaVine, but he wasn’t about to point fingers over his teammate’s decision.

“I was just trying to get my hands up because I was open, [but] I think [LaVine] was just trying to get the foul,’’ Vucevic said. “Obviously, the game came down to a last shot, but it shouldn’t have.’’

The Bulls were outscored 41-21 in the third quarter. That quarter was a comedy of errors, including bad fouls, missed layups and poor defense. Donovan has seen those bad habits far too often.

“It’s a mentality we have to have, that we have to develop,’’ Donovan said. “This kind of mentality in these situations: ‘OK, coming out for the third quarter, let’s try to make them call the first timeout. Let’s get some stops; let’s not foul; let’s not have breakdowns. Let’s not do things that are going to beat ourselves.’

“People say killer mentality, whatever it is, but that focus and concentration of ‘OK, we just built a double-digit lead, so these next four minutes we’ve got to really be locked in to what we’re doing here. If we’re going to lose this lead, it’s going to be because they did it.’ ’’

So back to square one now? Not yet. But, like Vucevic said, “still a ways to go.’’

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