In a revealing game that may have put the nail on the coffin for a team considered by many as part of the elite in the NBA, the Chicago Bulls were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 99-90. The Bulls were led by a three-pronged attack, as Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, and Carlos Boozer took turns dominating the game and befuddling the Magic defense in the process. Rose was spectacular, finishing with 22 points, 12 assists, and six rebounds. It wasn’t the most efficient outing for Rose but he proved that he’s deserving of being the All-Star starting point guard for the Eastern Conference. Deng was a force, putting up 26 points, eight rebounds, and two steals — he gave Hedo Turkoglu fits defensively, too. Boozer contributed with 16 points, 16 rebounds, and four assists. As for Orlando, it was the Dwight Howard show. Howard played one of the best games in his illustrious career in the league, dominating to the tune of 40 points, 15 rebounds, four steals, and three blocks. Only in Game 6 of the 2009 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers was Howard better. Howard was transcendent at the United Center, yet it didn’t matter because a lack of support from his teammates wasted his herculean performance. Cavaliers fans can relate to that last sentence, which is scary in the grand scheme of things when talks of Howard possibly leaving the Magic in 2012 grow louder by the day. Unfortunately for Orlando, their loss proved something that will — undoubtedly — discourage Magic fans.
Unless Orlando improves their perimeter defense, this is a roster that is not going to get farther than the second round of the playoffs.
The warning signs of the Magic’s issues defensively came against the Detroit Pistons when Austin Daye, Tracy McGrady, and Tayshaun Prince were able to do whatever they wanted on offense, despite the fact that they’re not nearly as talented offensively as LeBron James and others. For Orlando to struggle against Daye, McGrady, and Prince was a problem that was even more glaring when they faced off against Chicago. Even though Deng is a good player, perhaps even underrated when considering he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, there’s no reason that he should be scoring 26 points. Turkgolu’s defense against Deng was terrible. Particularly in the third quarter when Deng roared out of halftime and took Turkoglu to task, scoring 14 points in the period and sparking a 20-5 run that allowed the Bulls to take control of the game. It got so bad for Turkoglu, given that Deng was giving him fits defensively and not allowing him to create in pick and rolls, that head coach Stan Van Gundy was forced to use Quentin Richardson to try to slow down Deng. Think about that. And eventually, because the Magic were desperate for perimeter scoring, Van Gundy had to relent and reinsert Turkoglu into the game. Turkoglu never did get into a rhythm, and a lot of credit should go to Deng for outplaying him on both ends of the floor.
Jason Richardson‘s defense wasn’t much better, routinely losing sight of Ronnie Brewer and allowing him to get a few dunks. Like Turkoglu, Van Gundy was forced to use J.J. Redick to clog the bleeding on the perimeter defensively but because — again — Orlando needed Richardson’s offense out there, it didn’t take long for the ol’ coach to abandon that strategy versus Chicago.
The Bulls were hungry to win this game and in some ways, played a lot like the Magic used to play in 2009 — excellent energy and effort, fantastic execution, etc.
That was the tip of the iceberg for Orlando, by the way.
Because Jameer Nelson had to leave the game early due to a sore knee, Gilbert Arenas had to pick up the slack for the Magic. Even though Arenas did the best he could offensively, he was a mess on the other end of the court. Problem is, it’s easy to sympathize with Arenas because he simply doesn’t have any lateral movement, whatsoever, to keep anybody in front of him. Rose knew this and tortured Arenas, blowing by him with regularity and attacking the rim. Honestly, there wasn’t much Arenas could do on defense, given the state he’s in physically.
At this point, Van Gundy needs to perform a miracle with Orlando’s defensive unit, particularly the wings. Arenas is, admittedly, a lost cause on defense but there’s no reason that Turkoglu and Richardson should be struggling so much.
Turkoglu is a savvy on-ball defender. The problems that Turkoglu is having has to do with concentrating off-the-ball, as well as putting forth more energy and effort when he is defending someone. You know, like Deng.
Richardson, on the other hand, has the tools to be a great presence defensively because he’s one of the more athletic players in the league. His problem, like Turkoglu, is a lack of focus defensively. That and his technique sucks.
That being said, Turkoglu and Richardson have issues that are fixable. But will they be fixed by the time the postseason rolls around?
If the answer is yes, then the Magic will have a fighting chance against the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics. If the answer is no, then the clock will continue to tick on Howard’s future.
It has to discourage Howard that he’s going all out in a game like this, yet is seeing diminishing returns. Think about it. Howard had 40 points on 14-of-20 shooting and did whatever he wanted offensively. Bankshot jumpers, dunks, lefty and righty hooks, even his free-throw shooting was a positive. Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik, and Boozer were, literally, at the mercy of Howard’s wrath. Even if Joakim Noah was healthy, he wouldn’t have made a difference either. All for nothing. Howard was ruthless against the best defensive unit in the league. All for nothing. It’s performances like these which show that Howard has a great shot at winning not only the Defensive Player of the Year award for a third consecutive season but the Most Valuable Player award too. All for nothing.