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Illness will prevent Bulls' best player from facing Wizards

Illness will prevent Bulls' best player from facing Wizards

The Wizards were given a gift over the weekend, when Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn't play for the Milwaukee Bucks because of illness. Tuesday, Jimmy Butler isn't expected to be with the Chicago Bulls at Verizon Center for the same reason.

According to Bulls Insider Vince Goodwill of CSNchicago.com:

Butler, who has scored 40, 52 and 42 since Dec. 28, only scored one point on 0-for-6 shooting in the Bulls' 109-94 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night. He played just 28 minutes. 

MORE WIZARDS: BUTLER MAY NOT BE ALONE ON CHICAGO'S BENCH

With Dwyane Wade (rest) expected not to play in the second game of a back-to-back either, the matchup with the Wizards (18-18) will look significantly different as they try to get over .500 for the first time since November 2015.

Rajon Rondo has been replaced in the starting lineup by Michael Carter-Williams and hasn't played in the last five games. Rondo is 1-for-16 in the two meetings with the Wizards, who won the last time to put the season series at 1-1. 

The first time these teams met, the Wizards didn't have John Wall as he was being held out of back-to-back games and Bradley Beal had a sore hamstring. 

Based on what took place last season on Feb. 24, however, the Wizards' core players should know better than take victory for granted. The Bulls had injuries galore -- no Butler or Derrick Rose at the time -- but E'Twaun Moore took over and led seven players in double figures of a 109-104 upset of a team desperately trying to qualify for the postseason.

They fell behind by 12 points to Milwaukee but came back to win 107-102.

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Morning tip: Secret weapon Kelly Oubre is no longer a big secret

Morning tip: Secret weapon Kelly Oubre is no longer a big secret

CLEVELAND -- The athleticism and 7-2 wingspan covers for whatever shortcomings second-year forward Kelly Oubre, 21, has as a player. The Wizards moved up to draft, developed and cultivated the lockdown defender into a key piece of Scott Brooks' rotation.

How far they can go in the postseason will hinge on if Oubre is able to maintain his recent form. 

"The game for Kelly, to me, is simple. Just compete," coach Scott Brooks said after Saturday's 127-115 win at the Cavaliers. "Deflections. Getting into the passing lanes. Contesting at the rim. Switching on our pick-and-roll coverage because he can guard one through four depending on the matchup and then rebound. The game rewards him when he does that."

Oubre was a nuisance, much like he has been recently against the likes of Kemba Walker, Isaiah Thomas, Dennis Schroder and Jeremy Lin. Saturday, it was Kyrie Irving's turn. 

Though Oubre spent most of his time chasing LeBron James in relief of Otto Porter, he went back to the familiar fourth-quarter role of making it difficult on the guards.

And when the Cavs tried to make him defend size, such as Kevin Love, he was too quick.

"I was being guarded by bigs," said Oubre, who played 26 minutes, his most time since Feb. 8 vs. the Brooklyn Nets when he started for an injured Markieff Morris. "I knew I was going to be more energized than them."

Deron Williams telegraphed a feed to James and Oubre jumped the passing lane for a steal and converted a layup for a 107-98 lead with 9:05 lef in the fourth quarter.

Following a missed jumper by John Wall, Oubre put back the rebound for a 113-105 lead. Morris missed a post-up shot and Oubre's putback streched the advantage to 10 points with 5:29 left.

"He took advantage of who was guarding him, shots going up. He got two or three offensive rebounds, putbacks. Those are easy points," said Bradley Beal, who had 27 to go along with Wall's 37. "They're momentum-changers."

Indeed, the Wizards have been on the receving end. They gave up 20 offensive rebounds in an eight-point loss to Boston. They were victimized by the Charlotte Hornets in a five-point loss. 

Irving shot just 8-for-23 and found himself trying to get free from Wall. He'd run the pick-and-roll and end up with Oubre on the switch, an actual tougher matchup. This wasn't what he faced from the Wizards a year ago, when Irving and James isolated the weaker, less athletic defenders such as Jared Dudley in a similar situation. 

Then-coach Randy Wittman didn't trust the then-rookie to do the job. Brooks, who has been steady in guiding Oubre, has gone away from him in small stretches when he was undisciplined but always gave him a chance to play his way back in the rotation. 

Brooks deployed Oubre in the "funeral game" victory over the Celtics as he kept Thomas, the NBA's leading scorer in the final 12 minutes, to just one field goal in the fourth quarter. In a loss last week to Boston, the Wizards cut the deficit to six in the final minutes with Oubre hawking Thomas in to repeated mistakes down the stretch. 

His defense translates to easy offense. Oubre made 7 of 8 shots for 16 points, and had a team-high seven rebounds.

"He's been on a nice (run) for six games, " Brooks said, "just locking in and focusing in on what his role is and being a superstar in that role."

There is a market for wing defenders like Oubre, who the Wizards swapped picks to move from 19th to 15th in 2015. 

[RELATED: VIDEO: Jason Smith knees LeBron James in the groin on play at rim]

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Wizards' confidence skyrockets: 'If we play to our abilities, we can't be stopped'

Wizards' confidence skyrockets: 'If we play to our abilities, we can't be stopped'

CLEVELAND -- Before Saturday's game tipped off, Scott Brooks didn't care much about the pats on the back his team received for losing on Feb. 6 at Verizon Center, ending a 17-game home winning streak. The only validation that matters is winning in the second game of a back-to-back.

"You have to go out there and play well every night. It's one thing to have a great game against the best team in the league and lose. Of course they're going to say great things about you," Brooks said of that 140-135 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. "It doesn't mean anything. That last game means nothing."

After trailing 8-7, the Wizards (45-28) led by as many as 17 points and dominated the defending champs at Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night behind a combined 64 points and 17 assists from the starting backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The Cavs kept making a push to get back on top. They cut a 40-26 deficit after the first quarter to 65-59 with 1:03 left in the second. They trimmed a 71-61 halftime deficit to 92-89 with 1:28 left in the third. They got a 107-98 disadvantage down to 109-105 in the fourth, but in the end it was a 127-115 loss.

It puts Cleveland's hold to the No. 1 seed in the East in doubt. They're just one-half game ahead of the Boston Celtics. It keeps the No. 3 Wizards one game ahead of the No. 4 Toronto Raptors, but big picture it means more than any of that. 

Wall was unstoppable. It didn't matter if the Cavs (47-25) went under the screens because he'd hit the jumper. If they went over he'd get to the rim. If they blitzed him he'd either split the double-team or make the simple pass to find the open man for a clean look. 

"Whenever I get to knock down my first two mid-ranges, I was in a rhythm early of making shots," said Wall, who began making his first eight shots and finished 14-for-21 en route to his 47th double-double. "After that they started pressing up more and I started getting to the basket."

Kyrie Irving was no match for the second consecutive time in the matchup. He shot 8-for-24 before. He was 8-for-23 with just four assists this time.

"When John is shooting like that, because you know he's going to get those guys involved, they're a very tough team to beat," LeBron James said. "They've got so many guys that complement one another. Great starting five, great bench and that was without (Bojan) Bogdanovic, too."

Bogdanovic was a late scratch because of back tightness, but the more experienced and poised team down the stretch when stops were needed? That was the Wizards coming through and not the team that won the NBA title a year ago.

With 5:29 left in the game, Wall took over the team during a timeout. They'd gotten the lead back up to 115-105 after a putback from Kelly Oubre. Their point guard wanted to make sure the Cavs, who needed a Hail Mary three-pointer from James to force overtime a month ago, weren't given any daylight. He reinforced to them what to look for, what to take away and what to allow but never to lose the intensity that got them to that point.

"The thing that I see, the improvement as each month has gone by is his leadership," Brooks said of Wall. "That's a prime example when the game could go either way ... the voice of our leaders have to step up in the huddle. I thought John was tremendous throughout the game."

Cleveland sill won the season series 2-1, but winning on their floor is important to the Wizards who aspire to at least get to the conference finals. They've already clinched their third playoff berth in four years, but they only got to the semis and bowed out twice in six games. 

"We don't want to go into the playoffs and have to face those guys never having won against them in the regular season." Wall said. 

Markieff Morris, who has battled a sinus infection and foul trouble as he has struggled to regain his form since the All-Star break, anchored the middle in a 31-point fourth quarter for the small lineup. 

He has been salty about the matchup since the last loss. He played 11 of 12 minutes to end it and only shot 1-for-4 but did the intangible things to get them over the hump, but before that he faced up Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and James to get crucial baskets.

"Those are great players they got but we feel as though we're the best team in the league," said Morris, who has never been to the postseason in his previous six seasons. "If we play to our abilities, we can't be stopped."

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