The NBA star's absence disappointed a sellout crowd of 13,635 at the HSBC Arena in Rio—the gymnastics venue at the 2016 Olympics—where the top ticket price for the preseason game was 2,000 Brazilian reals ($915).
Taj Gibson led the Bulls with 18 points and Luol Deng added 14. Bradley Beal paced Washington with 16.
Rose had played two preseason games without any sign of problems, but Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said the knee flared up in practice Friday and Rose ended his work about halfway through the session.
"We wanted to see where he was today, but he wasn't as well as we would have liked," Thibodeau said. "He still had the soreness. So we anticipated giving him time off. We view our training camp as the entire month. So if he needs a day, or a couple of days we'll do that."
Kirk Hinrich started at point guard in Rose's absence and finished with eight points and three assists.
"It's more, I think, just a precaution. He's coming off a really big injury. We're not too worried," Hinrich said. "He's been good all camp and I'm assuming everybody is expecting him to be ready.
"Coming back from a big injury like that, you don't want to push it too hard, too fast.
Chicago led 44-35 at halftime and was in control most of the way until Washington took a 79-77 lead with 5:42 left on Glen Rice's 3-pointer.
Fans started chanting late in the game "Rose, Rose," hoping to see him take the floor, but Thibodeau plans on playing it safe with his star point guard.
"In training camp when guys get sore, you usually rest them," he said. "You are always concerned with injuries or soreness. We knew coming into the season he's coming off a major injury."
Rose hoped to be ready for the Bulls' next game, at home Wednesday against the Pistons.
"I know that I should be ready to go next game," he said.
Chicago's Joakim Noah also missed the game, sitting out with a groin injury.
"Over the course of a season you are always going to have different issues in terms of health," Thibodeau said. "So we expect when someone is out, the next man will step up and get the job done. We had a lot of guys do that last year and we expect the same next year."
Brazilian great Oscar Schmidt got a rousing welcome from the fans, but Wizards center Nene, who grew up near Sao Paulo, was jeered as he took the floor. And he was jeered each time he went to the free-throw line.
Many Brazil fans are unhappy because Nene seldom plays for the national team, and Schmidt has criticized him for not doing so.
Chicago is 3-0 in the preseason and Washington is 0-2.