The Chicago Bulls were able to defeat the Orlando Magic by the score of 89-81, snapping a four-game winning streak and inducing Dwight Howard to pick up a technical foul — his 16th of the regular season, which means he’ll be suspended for Monday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Even though the scoreboard said it was a close matchup between two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference, from the second quarter on, the Bulls had total control against the Magic and were never in a vulnerable position of giving up the lead. Derrick Rose led the way for Chicago, finishing with 24 points, four rebounds, four assists, and two steals. Rose got help from his supporting cast, as three players scored in double-figure for the Bulls. Even though Kyle Korver scored only 10 points, he stands out because he was able to put the nail on the coffin late in the fourth quarter by making cold-blooded threes. Orlando was led by a balanced attack, as four players scored in double-figures. Howard played well, putting up 20 points, 10 rebounds, two steals, and four blocks, but it felt like he could have done way more had the Magic made a concerted effort to give him the basketball more. Brandon Bass had an efficient outing, scoring 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Jason Richardson had 16 points, while Jameer Nelson had 14 points.
The key to Chicago’s victory was their 18-2 run in the second quarter. The game was even up to that point but when Orlando’s second unit took the floor, they were badly outplayed. The Bulls were a step quicker to everything, whether it was rebounds, loose balls, and their defense was fantastic. Watching head coach Tom Thibodeau pace the sidelines and the players for Chicago flat-out execute reminds a lot of the 2009 version of the Magic — winning with execution and defense.
For most of the evening, it seemed like Orlando was still feeling the after-effects of their comeback win against the Miami Heat. There was little energy, shots were short, and frustration began to mount — especially for Howard — as the Magic played sloppy basketball. Unfortunately for Howard, with Chicago swarming him in the paint on nearly every opportunity, he snapped back and earned a technical foul as Korver continued to pester him. In that sense, not only the Bulls win in that skirmish but it affected Howard on the free-throw line, as he seemed distracted and wasn’t able to make his free-throws. Those were the lone setbacks in Howard’s performance, as he was outstanding in nearly every other facet of the game. Particularly on offense, where Howard was unstoppable. There’s no one for Chicago, whether it’s Joakim Noah or Omer Asik, that could slow Howard down let alone stop him. The problem is that Orlando didn’t give Howard the ball with any consistency, instead relying on three-point shots a little too much to try to comeback in the game. And to be honest, it’s hard to blame the players for the Magic for having that mindset of trying to erase the lead quickly with three-point shots, given that’s what it took for them to beat the Heat. However, it didn’t work against the Bulls and Howard was neglected in the post as a result.
If there’s a stat that exemplifies Chicago’s win, it’s that they out-rebounded Orlando by 20. For the most part, rebounding is an effort statistic and the Bulls carrying a 50-30 margin speaks volumes about which team was putting forth more energy and effort on the court.
Another key thing to note. It was doubtful that the Magic could have gotten the No. 3 seed, even with a victory, but the loss doesn’t help. As of now, Orlando is three and a half games back of Chicago and Miami in the standings. At this point, with 19 games left in the regular season, the Magic would have to get on a winning streak while either the Bulls or Heat would have to falter for there to be any chance of repositioning with regards to the seeding structure in the East.
Given that the Atlanta Hawks are, more or less, locked in at the No. 5 seed as they trail Orlando by three and a half games while the New York Knicks are five games behind them, it looks like there will likely be a rematch of the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals in the first round of the playoffs this year.
That makes the matchup on March 30 between the Hawks and Magic much more interesting.