Bulls kick Wizards while they're down

CHICAGO -- Mike Dunleavy took a final shot after the Chicago Bulls' hard-fought 97-92 win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night.

Trying to describe the physicality that always seems to occur in any game between these two teams, the veteran shooting guard delivered one final blow to a reeling Wizards squad that has now lost 12 of its past 15 games.

"That's who they are, they're a physical team," Dunleavy said. "They play us great. If they played everybody else the way they play us, they may be looking at a championship."

Dunleavy's zinger capped off one of the better wins of the season for an undermanned Bulls squad that played without Derrick Rose (knee), Jimmy Butler (elbow) and Taj Gibson (ankle). The game also illustrated once again just how much these two teams dislike each other in what could be another playoff preview once the regular season ends.

The tone for this game came before the Wizards even got to Chicago. That's because Wizards big man Nene let it be known how he felt about the team the Wizards knocked out in five games of last season's Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

"I don't want to talk about Chicago," Nene said, according to the Washington Post. "You know I hate them. You can put that."

The problem for Nene and the Wizards is that his hatred toward the Bulls didn't seem to help his play. He spent the entire night in foul trouble -- registering a flagrant foul 1 against Joakim Noah in the fourth quarter -- before fouling out down the stretch.

"It's part of the process, and I really don't know what to say right now," Noah said of the play. "But I'm just happy we won, and I'm happy I kept my composure. Just trying to put out a video a couple hours before the game [through his foundation] about non-violence. And trying to teach these kids [about the] big picture. You know what I mean? So it wouldn't have been a good look, not today. Not today. But I'm really, really proud of this team and the way we stepped up tonight."

The game had the intensity of a playoff affair, and the Bulls took great pride in the win, given both the circumstances and the opponent.

"They're the team that eliminated us last year in the playoffs," Noah said. "When that happens it's always more than just … even subconsciously it's more than just a basketball game."

Even the players who are new to the blossoming rivalry realized this game meant a little more to everyone involved. There was an edge to this game that isn't usually seen in the regular season. And with the Cleveland Cavaliers charging hard to jump ahead of the Bulls, who lead the Cavs by a half-game for the third seed in the Eastern Conference standings, there's a good chance Chicago and Washington could square off again in the 4-5 matchup in the first round of the playoffs.

The Wizards had won five straight games in Chicago, including the playoffs, coming into Tuesday night's game, according to ESPN Stats & Info. With the loss, they have now lost eight straight road games, their longest stretch in two seasons.

"I think I'm like new to all this because there's a lot of bad blood between these two teams," Bulls guard Aaron Brooks said with a laugh. "I feel like I just got here. I missed most of it."

Brooks got into a little trash-talking of his own with Wizards veteran Paul Pierce, who picked up a technical foul in the fourth quarter in a game that featured plenty of hard fouls.

The good news for the Bulls is that rookie Nikola Mirotic didn't seem fazed by Pierce or any other Wizards player, as he continued to play at a high level. Two days after racking up a career-high 29 points against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday, Mirotic followed that up with 23 points against the Wizards, prompting Noah to call him a "stud."

In order for the Bulls to continue racking up wins in the short term, they'll need to lean on Mirotic more than ever offensively. But as the Bulls hit the home stretch of the season, veteran Pau Gasol knows his team is going to have to find ways to keep its energy and focus intact without three of its best players.

"I think every game is going to be emotional from now on," Gasol said. "Every game is meaningful, and this team -- they're a tough team. They try to play extra physical to try to take away stuff. But I think we did well, we handled it well and we were able to get an important win."