If the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards meet in the first round of the playoffs, the Bulls will have a nice little blueprint to follow.
The Bulls dominated from the get-go Saturday night and never trailed in a 96-78 win over the Wizards, avenging two losses from earlier in the season and providing perhaps a psychological edge if these teams are cranking up for a seven-game series in a couple of weeks.
"It was definitely a statement game," Washington forward Drew Gooden said. "We were going in the mindset of this being a statement game, getting a possible matchup in the first round, and they took it the same way. They wanted to make a statement early."
And they certainly did, holding the Wizards to 16 points in the first quarter and 10 in the second while building a lead that grew as large as 28 points. At one point, Washington was 0 for 7 from the 3-point line and 0 for 3 from the free throw line for the game, as well as 2 for 13 from the field in the second period.
"They were taking shots they didn't want to take," Bulls forward Taj Gibson said.
D.J. Augustin found plenty that he liked, as long as he was behind the arc. He led Chicago with 25 points, making 6 of 11 3-pointers but only 2 of 8 2-pointers. Joakim Noah had 21 points and 12 rebounds, and Carlos Boozer added 16 points for the Bulls, who have won five straight and are tied with the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. Augustin has averaged 19.8 points during the winning streak.
Unlike the Wizards, who freely talked about a rematch in the playoffs, the Bulls didn't want to think that far ahead.
"We lost to these guys at home. We lost to them here. It was just getting this win tonight," Augustin said. "We're not looking forward to the playoffs just yet, but we wanted to come out tonight and do it for ourselves."
John Wall scored 20 points, and Marcin Gortat had 19 for the Wizards, who sit in sixth place in the East. If they hold that spot, they would face the third-seeded team.
Several Washington players cited fatigue as an issue on the back end of a back-to-back, but coach Randy Wittman noted that Chicago played Friday night as well. It also didn't help that Trevor Ariza played through an illness and went 1 for 9 from the field.
Wittman, however, said his team wasn't ready for the Bulls' intensity and aggression.
"You fight aggression with aggression," Wittman said. "And it was only a one-way fight tonight."
One likely difference if the teams do meet again: Wizards forward Nene, out with a sprained left knee, is expected back for the playoffs. He played in the two early wins over the Bulls.
"Nene gives us another facilitator," Wittman said. "And against a team like this you need another one. Nene was another guy that kind of can play like Noah does, up at the top with the ball in his hands. That's not an excuse why we lost. I'd love to have him back, though."
The Wizards made a run in the third quarter, scoring more points (35) in the period than they had in the entire first half (26). Wall's 30-foot bounce pass to Trevor Booker on a fast break led to a dunk that pulled Washington within 11 and brought the crowd to its feet.
But Noah took over and quickly squashed the rally. His three-point play started a 12-0 run early in the fourth quarter that put the game away.
"We wanted to throw the first punch tonight, and I think we did a good job with that," Noah said. "In the beginning of the game, we were the more aggressive team. Usually, the most aggressive team wins."