Detroit Injury Report:
Ben Gordon: doubtful (sore groin)
Rodney Stuckey: doubtful (sore hamstring)
The Bulls reasserted themselves as a great team, even without Derrick Rose in the line-up, with a dominating win over the Hawks. Now Chicago has to carry that tenacity over to tonight’s game, against the Detroit Pistons.
The Bulls took the first two games against Detroit, rather easily.
These two games also put Rip Hamilton’s season in perspective. On January 4th, Rip made his return to the line-up in a game at the Palace at Auburn Hills. It was a home-coming for Rip, and probably a pretty special moment for him. He scored 14 points and dished five assists in 32 minutes. He looked pretty good. Then on January 9th, when the two teams met again, this time in Chicago, Rip was…on the bench.
This is the position that Bulls fans expect Rip to start (and finish) the game in—the sitting one. In the ten games surrounding that January 4th Bulls-Pistons match-up, Rip played in none of them. Maybe he rushed back to the line-up, so he could have a homecoming, maybe he is just getting unlucky this year with injuries. Either way, it’s been a long time since we saw Rip play.
Tonight is the third match-up of the season series; one more game will follow in mid-April.
Carlos Boozer was the leading scorer in both games, and he did it efficiently. In the first game, Boozer was 9-15 from the field, for 19 points and also had three steals. In the next match-up he scored 23 points on 9-13 shooting, and added eight rebounds.
When Boozington is on, he’s on. The problem is he’s usually only on against sub-par teams. Although he did play well against Atlanta, scoring 20 points (8-13) and grabbing nine rebounds.
It could be a long night for Detroit. The Pistons rank 28th in offensive rating, at 100.4, while the Bulls are second in defensive rating, with a 99.1 rating (Philadelphia is still in first, a full two points better than Chicago). Detroit has averaged 75.5 points in the two previous match-ups, which probably won’t be enough to get the job done.
Greg Monroe did find some ways to score against the Bulls this year. He scored 19 points (8-15 shooting) and had 13 rebounds in game one, then scored 14 points (5-9 shooting) with ten rebounds in the most recent match-up.
Points don’t come easy against the Bulls, and they don’t come easy for the Pistons.
To add insult to injury, Detroit may be without their leading scorer, Rodney Stuckey (16.1) and another scorer, Ben Gordon (12.3).
Stuckey played just seven minutes in Detroit’s win over the Cavaliers. Gordon didn’t play, but Tayshaun Prince came up big; scoring 29 points. The Cavs shot 34.5 percent from the field. You don’t win many games shooting that poorly.
The Bulls can’t overlook this game, but one of the biggest tests of this season is coming up on Sunday, when Chicago takes on Oklahoma City. It’d be nice if Rose was back for that game, but Chicago needs to take care of business tonight, before hitting the road to take on the best in the West.
The Bulls don’t lose two games in a row. They just don’t.
That’s one of the greatest qualities of this team. They respond so well after a loss. The focus narrows and everybody rededicates themselves to winning.
You could see it in the way the Bulls rebounded the basketball. After two straight sub-par (read that: pathetic) rebounding efforts, Chicago dominated the boards 45-36, which included a 13-8 edge in offensive rebounds.
The Bulls also took care of the rock, committing only 8 turnovers and allowing the Hawks only 9 points off those miscues. They shared the ball as usual — compiling 26 assists on 38 made field goals — and shot lights out from three-point range (9-for-16).
There was defense too, as the Bulls held Atlanta to 40 percent shooting (29 percent on threes) and a mere 9 free throw attempts. And did I mention they outscored the Hawks 42-30 in the paint.
And so, as the Chicago Tribune’s K.C. Johnson pointed out, “the Bulls ran their streak of avoiding consecutive regular-season losses to 84 games. That tied the 1997-99 Pacers for third all-time. The NBA record is the 1997-99 Jazz’s 95.”
Said Carlos Boozer: “We just hate losing. We all felt we played horrible [against the Nuggets]. We all felt we could give so much more to the team. Everybody brought great intensity and focus. We had a certain edge. I think that speaks to our character the way we responded.”
In many ways, this was the opposite of Monday’s loss to Denver. In that game, the Bulls got off to a quick start before getting outworked by the Nuggets. Last night, Atlanta sprinted out to a 13-5 lead before Chicago took over.
Oddly, the Hawks forced the Bulls to take outside shots. Chicago attempted 35 shots from 15 feet and in while launching 41 shots from 16 feet and beyond. The plan both worked and didn’t work. The Bulls were dreadful on “long twos” (that is, shots from 16-23 feet), going 7-for-25, which is a 28 percent rate of accuracy. But, as noted, they drilled 9 of their 16 three-point field goals, including seven in a row at one point.
Said Atlanta’s Jeff Teague: “The last couple of games, they beat us in the paint, so we focused on that. But they came out and made shots. Everybody was hitting shots, from the point guards to the forwards. Not much you can do about that.”
The Hawks certainly couldn’t, not last night, considering they were playing their fifth game in six days. That would be a rough stretch for any team in the league. Frankly, by the time the second quarter was underway, the Hawks looked spent. And the Bulls were geared to avenge that embarrassing home loss to the Nuggets.
The result: a 21-point blowout.
Added Atlanta’s Josh Smith: “We couldn’t get anything going. We were trying to create some kind of energy, some kind of momentum. It was hard to generate.”
The Bulls generated energy. They got it from Luol Deng (22 points, 8-for-14, +16) and Carlos Boozer (20 points, 8-for-13, 9 rebounds). They got it from the Bench Mob (37 points, 18 rebounds, 10 assists), particularly Taj Gibson (19 points, 8-for-12, 6 boards). Everybody was bringing it.
The team’s depth helps. So does the coaching. Everybody knows their role. The players stick together. Everybody has everybody else’s back.
Of course, there’s no denying the Bulls still need Derrick Rose back, even if they’ve won six of the eight games he’s missed with a groin injury. And, to a lesser extent, they need Rip Hamilton back too. Depth and effort will bring regular season wins. The Bulls proved that last season and this season.
To win in the playoffs, though, the Bulls will need a full and reasonably healthy roster.
Atlanta Injury Report:
Al Horford: out for season
Jannero Pargo: out 2-4 weeks (appendectomy)
Vladimir Radmanovic: missed Tuesday’s game (sore back)
The last time Chicago lost back-to-back games was February of 2011, when they lost to Golden State and Portland. Since then, the Bulls’ worst streak was going 3-3 from late January to early February this year (those losses came against Indiana, Miami and Philadelphia—very good teams). Chicago will put that streak on the line in Atlanta tonight.
Coming off a loss to Denver, Chicago once again will play an opponent that is on the tail-end of a back-to-back, for the sixth straight time. To make it even better for the Bulls, Atlanta is playing for the fifth time in six nights.
The Hawks lost to Milwaukee last night, in a game in which both teams shot 50 percent from the field. Ivan Johnson was pretty much perfect in the game. Going 7-7 from the field for 17 points and adding three rebounds, two steals and zero turnovers. He still recorded a plus/minus of -12 somehow.
Josh Smith had a Kevin Love-like double-double, scoring 30 points (14-26 from the field) and grabbing 18 rebounds. Knowing Smith, he probably took a lot more long twos than Kevin Love would have (Also Smith is basically the opposite of Kevin Love when it comes to athletic ability).
Coming off that 30 point, 18 rebound game, Josh Smith also looks to continue his solid play against the Bulls this season. He’s averaging 19 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in the three games against Chicago.
Joe Johnson followed up his 37 points on Sunday with just eleven against the Jazz. Johnson went 4-14 from the field, but still recorded a team best plus/minus of +9 (he also had eight assists). He is averaging 24.2 points and shooting 49.2 percent (50.8 percent from three) over his last ten games, even with last night’s poor performance.
Atlanta dominated the paint, outscoring the Bucks 50-32 in that area. The Hawks downfall was turning the ball over 22 times, and giving up 23 points off those turnovers.
And if a back-to-back wasn’t hard enough for Atlanta, their game Saturday night went into four overtimes (just the ninth time in NBA history a game had four extra periods).
Atlanta is 16-7 at home this season, and according to STATS LLC, the Hawks have won seven of their last eight home games against the Bulls, winning by an average of 14.1 points.
The Bulls were out-hustled, out-ran, out-rebounded and every other “out-” you can think of. This type of thing happens, a team can’t be at the top of their game every night, but it is always surprising when it happens to the Bulls. It’s a rare night when Chicago gets out-worked top-to-bottom, but Denver did it.
Tonight is the fourth and final time these teams will meet in the regular season. The Bulls are leading the series 2-1, winning both of their games in the United Center
It’s been a long time since the Bulls have come out flat in two straight games and lost. But they’ll have to be near the top of their game to beat the Hawks, who have given the Bulls trouble in recent seasons, even when Derrick Rose was playing. In Rose’s worst game against Atlanta this season (3-10 shooting, turned the ball over five times and recorded a -33 plus/minus) the Hawks got the win. Rose averaged 26.5 in the Bulls’ wins, so Chicago needs to find those points from someone else.
Those two Chicago wins also came from the defense, when the Bulls held Atlanta to an average of 76.5 points. Without Rose, the Bulls need to win with that aspect of the game, and they know it.
After the Bulls gave up 108 points to the Nuggets, Kyle Korver explained the real reason they lost. “It wasn’t scoring points, though,” Korver said. “We’ve won a lot of games scoring 91 points or less. We just got to play better defense and we can do that with or without Derrick.”
Rose will probably take his new favorite position, the seat at the end of the bench, along with Rip Hamilton. It will be the eighth straight missed game for Rose and the twelfth straight for Rip. The Masked (and Invisible) Man has played just 16 games, while missing 35. But it’s most important that Rip and Rose are healthy for the playoffs.
Noah’s Ark is Sinking: Joakim Noah has scored just two points in each of his last two games (he was ejected after playing just 12 minutes in one of those games). He hasn’t reached double digit scoring or rebounding since March 17, against Philadelphia, when he had 13 points and 11 rebounds. He is shooting 37 percent over his last five games, and averaging 6.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. The Bulls need their emotional leader to show up when their best player is wearing a suit on the bench. Noah even lucks out by not having to play against Al Horford tonight.
I think we can all agree on one thing: This was bound to happen.
The Bulls keep playing on without Derrick Rose (groin) and The Ghost of Rip Hamilton (shoulder). Somehow, despite these conspicuous absences and that torn ligament in Luol Deng’s left wrist, they’ve forged the NBA’s best record (40-11). And, thanks to Miami’s back-to-back losses to the Thunder and Pacers, there’s still a little cushion in their Eastern Conference lead.
But those back-to-back come-from-behind wins over the Raptors — which came courtesy of a crazy 20-0 run in one game and a lucky buzzer beater in the other — somewhat camouflaged the fact that the Bulls have been playing poorly.
As Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau likes to point out, playing poorly almost always comes back to bite a team in the butt. And there are some nasty teeth marks in the Bulls’ collective behind today.
Denver’s defense dominated this game in a variety of ways. For starters, the Nuggets forced 16 turnovers, which robbed the Bulls of precious possessions and ignited Denver’s transition game. To wit: The Nuggets finished with 23 fast break points…usually with hapless Bulls players in distant pursuit.
The Bulls lead the league in rebounds per game and rebounding differential. That didn’t matter last night as the Nuggets won the battle of the boards 45-32, which included a 14-5 edge on the offensive glass. Denver point guard Ty Lawson — who blistered the Bulls with a game-high 27 points — finished with more offensive rebunds (2) than Chicago’s entire starting lineup (1).
Denver also forced the Bulls into a steady diet of outside shots. The Bulls attempted only 28 shots from 15 feet and in while launching 42 shots from 16 feet and beyond.
Contrast that with the aggressiveness of the Nuggets: They took 54 shots from 15 feet and in while hoisting 34 shots from 16 feet and beyond. Basically, the reverse ratio of what Chicago did.
And here’s the kicker: The Bulls attempted 20 shots at the rim. The Nuggets attempted 37. And although the teams had similar conversion rates — Denver completed 56 percent of their at-the-rim shots to 50 percent for the Bulls — those 17 extra attempts around the hoop combined with their domination of the boards is proof positive that the Nuggets completely outworked the Bulls all night long.
Said Joakim Noah: “We just laid an egg. We didn’t play good basketball tonight … both ends of the court.”
In possibly related news, Noah finished with fewer rebounds (5) than Lawson (9). Who, I will point out again, is a point guard. And Jo barely outrebounded Denver’s backup point guard Andre Miller (4).
Added Kyle Korver: “We didn’t have it tonight.”
Korver continued: “Not making excuses. We’ve shown that whomever we put out there can win. But it all starts with playing hard. We just didn’t have our edge tonight.”
I wonder if that loss of an edge — which has been missing for at least three games now, maybe more — wasn’t somewhat inevitable. The Bulls have been forced to play consistently shorthanded all season. Constantly picking up slack for teammates who were either playing hurt or hurt and not playing. Like Korver said, no excuses, but realistically, that takes a toll in the long run. You can only go to the well so many times before the water starts to run out.
The Bulls have been making up for missing personnel with desire and intensity. But how long can a team go all-out every night without wearing down a little? The Bulls haven’t been sharp for a handful of games now. They’re a step slow when closing out on open shooters and chasing opponents in transition. They’re either missing rebounds or having them taken away. And they aren’t taking care of the basketball.
Said Luol Deng: “We got to focus better throughout the whole game. I think things weren’t going our way and we kind of just allowed it to happen, that’s not what we do. We just got to get back. There’s nights when you’re not going to shoot well, but every night we’ve got to play hard. I thought tonight they played harder than us. They were more focused throughout the game and that’s what we do. We can’t allow that.”
When a team isn’t playing well, they usually turn to their best players. Deng is an All-Star, but last night he played more like an All-Nobody, finishing with 9 points on 3-for-9 shooting to go with 3 boards, zero assists and 4 turnovers.
C.J. Watson compiled some decent stats filling in for Rose — 17 points and 8 assists — but the Bulls were outscored by 28 points during his 34 minutes.
The Bulls got a combined 28 points from Korver and John Lucas III — Kyle was 4-for-4 on threes while Lucas was 4-for-7 — but the Bench Mob never really unleashed that killer defense the team is used to.
Like Korver said, the Bulls simply didn’t have it last night.
The Bulls are 12-5 without Rose this season, including 5-2 during his current seven-game sabbatical. But they need him back. Rip too. And soon. There are only 15 games left in the regular season. This team needs a lift.
Denver Injury Report:
Rudy Fernandez: out for season (back surgery)
Danilo Gallinari: out indefinitely (broken left thumb)
Kosta Koufos: missed Sunday’s game (knee tendinitis)
For the Bulls fifth straight game the Bulls will get an opponent playing on the tail end of a back-to-back; this time it’s the Denver Nuggets. This will be the only time the Bulls and Nuggets meet this season.
Chicago needs to avoid coming out flat after their emotional last second (actually tenth of a second) win over the Raptors. Luol Deng finished the game 23 points, ten rebounds, four assists and one game winning basket. Carlos Boozer had another double-double, going for 24 points and ten rebounds (he was 11-19 from the field).
C.J. Watson scored 23 points in Derrick Rose’s absence and Omer Asik had ten points and seven rebounds in Joakim Noah’s absence. Noah will be extra rested, after getting ejected from the game (he played 12 minutes before getting tossed). It was just the sixth time in Asik’s career that he scored ten or more points.
The Bulls couldn’t hit anything from beyond the arc, going 3-23 from deep. Deng was 0-6 from three, Watson 2-6, John Lucas 0-4 and Kyle Korver 1-5. In their defense, it was really foggy inside the United Center, so they could barely see the basket. Wait, it wasn’t? OK they were just terrible from deep, never mind.
Chicago did counter-act their ineptness from deep by scoring 64 points in the paint, even with Noah scoring just two points.
And while Chicago has been rolling lately, Denver has struggled as of late, going just 4-6 in their last ten games. Over their last four games, the Nuggets have allowed their opponent to score 112, 115, 121 and 117 points. Denver is 29th in opponents’ points per game (102.5). And though they give up a lot of points, they are first in scoring (103.6 points per game).
The Nuggets are currently in a three-way tie for seventh place in the West, with Utah (who they just recently lost to) and Houston. The playoff battle in the West is going to be crazy, so Denver is battling for their postseason chances every night. On the other hand, Chicago secured the first playoff spot this postseason with their win over the Raptors.
Kenneth Faried continued to impress in his rookie season, scoring 17 points on 8-13 shooting against the Wolves. In his fourth game this season, Wilson Chandler went for 13 points on 5-11 shooting. Chandler has been starting for the injured Danilo Gallinari. Gallinari is expected to miss tonight’s game as well.
New addition JaVale McGee scored 13 points and grabbed eleven rebounds in his 25 minutes of action.
Ty Lawson logged the most minutes, playing 37. Corey Brewer (33), Faried (30) and Chandler (33) were the only other players with more than 30 minutes of playing time.
The Bulls should once again be the more rested team, unless Thibs made them run a marathon for going into overtime with the Raptors (who were without DeMar DeRozan and on the tail end of a back-to-back).
Denver is 11-11 on the road this season, losing their last two. They are in the midst of a seven game road trip.
Rose is probably going to miss tonight’s game as well. Chicago is 12-4 without their star point guard, who is itching to get back.
“It’s definitely hard but, at the same time I’m happy they are playing great. We’re winning games,” Rose said. “Of course I want to be out there. I hate being injured, but right now we’re in a good groove.”
Toronto Injury Report:
Jerryd Bayless: missed last night’s game against New York (hip pointer)
DeMar DeRozan: left last night’s game against New York (sore ankle)
The Bulls have had two full days of rest after beating the Raptors in Toronto, and will play them again tonight in the United Center.
John Lucas III once again surprised the other team by playing like a grown man, all while looking like a middle school student. Lucas went off in the fourth; scoring all 13 of his points and helping the Bulls outscore Toronto 32-13 in the final quarter. That included a 20-0 run by the Bulls.
And while the Bulls had a few days off after their comeback win, Toronto will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back. The Raptors topped the Knicks last night behind 30 points from DeMar DeRozan. DeRozan went 11-17 from the field and 8-9 from the line.
Only Carmelo Anthony (12), Amare Stoudemire (17) and Steve Novak (15) scored in double digits for the Knicks, who also had 22 turnovers.
Gary Forbes scored 19 points off the bench for the Raptors, going 8-12 from the field. Andrea Bargnani added 21 points and seven rebounds. Jose Calderon went 0-10 from the field, but did dish ten assists.
DeRozan may not be able to play tonight because of a sore ankle. He scored 23 points against the Bulls on Wednesday night.
Toronto was also coming into the last match-up with Chicago on no rest. The Raptors are 3-12 with no rest. They are 8-17 on the road, while Chicago is 19-4 in the United Center.
The Bulls gave up just 64 points to the Raptors when Toronto visited the United Center in mid-January. Toronto shot 34.9 percent from the field and 1-7 from the free throw line.
Somebody is going to have to step up again for the Bulls if they want to win on their home court. Derrick Rose and Rip Hamilton are likely out once again, something that is becoming all too common. The Bulls improved to 11-4 without Rose this season last time out against Toronto.
Actually, for much of the game, the Raptors were the aggressors. Usually, opposing teams can’t match Chicago’s energy, but last night the Bulls couldn’t match Toronto’s. For about three quarters anyway.
Then the fourth quarter happened. And what a quarter it was.
The Raptors were wearing camouflage uniforms in honor of Canadian Armed Forces Night, but they couldn’t hide during that final period. The Bulls went on an unthinkable 20-0 run and outscored the Raptors 32-13. John Lucas (all 13 of his points were scored in the fourth) and Kyle Korver (all 10 of his points were also scored in the fourth) outscored Toronto 23-13 by themselves.
In all, Chicago’s reserves outscored the Raptors’ bench 28-3 in the final 12 minutes.
Talk about depth.
Said John Lucas III: “Our starters came in in the third and played hard. When you see that you come out and try to match their intensity. A lot of our shots were falling. I got it going, Kyle [Korver] got it going. Luol [Deng] kept it up the whole night and Taj [Gibson] and Omer [Asik] played big with defensive stops and rebounding.”
Speaking of defensive stops, here’s a quick summary of Toronto’s “offense” during that 20-0 f ourth quarter run:
Missed three, missed 21-footer, missed three, missed 21-footer, missed 22-footer, missed 21-footer, missed 6-footer (blocked by Asik), turnover (Deng drew a charge from Linas Kleiza), missed 17-footer, missed 21-footer, missed layup (blocked by Deng), missed 14-footer.
So the Bulls forced the Raptors into long jumpers…and the few attempts Toronto made to get to the rim ended in blocked shots and a turnover.
Now that’s some defense, folks.
Said Carlos Boozer: “We knew what it was: Winning time. “Everybody just stepped up. Everybody that was out there did a great job of making the extra play, the extra stop, the extra pass.”
Winning time indeed. Make it 101 wins in the last 131 games for the Bulls.
Still, Thibs wouldn’t be Thibs if he didn’t direct a little stink eye toward the first three quarters, which apparently was not-winning time.
Said Thibodeau: “We were low-energy on defense and offense. Our passing was way off the mark. Even the ones that we completed, we were taking guys out of rhythm and we turned the ball over in the first half … which put them in the open floor.”
So chalk up another ugly, plodding, grind-it-out for the Bulls. They get a rare two days off before facing the Raptors again (this time in Chicago) on Saturday.
For the third straight game Chicago will get an opponent on the tail end of a back-to-back. The Bulls won the last two match-ups, against Orlando and Philadelphia, who were both coming off games against Miami.
Tonight the first place Bulls travel to Toronto to take on the struggling Raptors. The Raptors have lost five of their last seven, and will be playing with no rest after losing to the Knicks last night. Toronto is 3-11 on the second night of back-to-backs this season, averaging 88.8 points per game.
DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 17 points and five rebounds, but the Knicks brought down 16 more rebounds than Toronto in New York’s big victory. Amare Stoudemire had more rebounds (12) than the entire starting line-up for the Raptors (10). Stoudemire also pitched in 22 points to lead the Knicks in scoring.
The Bulls haven’t played since their Monday night win over the Magic, in which John Lucas III reasserted his dominance over every point guard in the league. And the Magic decided that they didn’t feel like scoring that night.
Chicago beat the Raptors the only time these two teams met this season, in a low scoring affair. Toronto shot 34.9 percent from the field and 1-7 from the line to finish with just 64 points. After the Magic scored 59 points the last time the Bulls played, 64 doesn’t sound so bad though.
Chicago wasn’t that much better on the offensive end; they shot just 40.4 percent and finished with 77 points. With all the missed shots from both sides, the rebounds were plentiful. The Bulls won the overall rebounding battle 52-50, but Toronto brought down more offensive rebounds than Chicago (14 to 12).
The Bulls have been winning a lot of their games by destroying the offensive boards, but it won’t be easy tonight. The Raptors are third in defensive rebounding percentage (.753).
The Bulls had Derrick Rose in that first game, but he will probably not play tonight, as he continues to nurse his injured groin. It will be the fourth game in a row that Rose misses.
Chicago and Toronto will play each other again on Saturday. The Bulls have off until that game, while the Raptors will once again be playing on the second night of a back-to-back after previously facing the Knicks.
Trending up: Jerryd Bayless is averaging 20.0 points and 7.2 assists over his last five games. He is averaging 12.0 points and 3.9 assists on the season. The Bulls may luck out, as Bayless left the game against New York with an injury. Bayless was starting for the injured Jose Calderon, who returned to action against the Knicks.
No. That score is not a typo. You’re not imagining it. It really happened.
The Magic eked out only 59 points. At home. Against a Bulls squad minus its best player (Derrick Rose) and another starter (Rip Hamilton).
Not that Rose and Hamilton act as defensive anchors for the team or anything like that, but the Bulls were undermanned and in hostile territory against a quality team. And while the Magic had played the previous day in Miami — the loss dropped Orlando to 7-8 on the second night of back-to-backs this season — this was an historic defensive success / offensive fail.
The Bulls set a regular-season team record for the fewest points allowed in a game, yielding only 59 to the Orlando Magic.
Orlando had significant issues in catch-and-shoot situations on Monday night. The Magic were 4-for-19 on such shots against Chicago.
They are not the first opponents to struggle against the Bulls on those sorts of shots. Bulls opponents are shooting 36 percent on catch-and-shoot shots. The resulting 0.88 points allowed per shot ranks second-best in the NBA (the Celtics are a hair better—0.87 points allowed per shot).
Holding Orlando to that sort of shooting performance is not easy. The Magic rank fourth in the NBA in points per catch-and-shoot shot.
The Magic did help the Bulls out by going 7-for-18 from the free throw line. The Magic’s 39 percent effort was the worst for any team that took at least that many attempts in a game in the NBA this season.
It was also the second-worst free throw shooting performance in Magic team history.
The Bulls did arguably have one defensive game more memorable than this one. They allowed 54 points to the Utah Jazz in the 1998 NBA Finals. That season ended with the team celebrating a championship.
Believe it or not, the Magic shot 70 percent (14-for-20) at the rim, but that’s pretty much where their success ended. From 3-15 feet, they were 4-for-11 and from 16 feet and beyond they went 6-for-37. Combined with their poor free throw shooting and turnovers (19 for 25 points going the other way) and you have clear signs of a team with no legs just kind of mailing it in.
Unfortunately for the Magic, they were playing against a team that never, ever, ever mails in a game. That’s not to say the Bulls always play their best or even harder than their opponents. They’ve been outworked a few times this season. It happens. But, by and large, they Bulls bring it every single night.
Dwight Howard knows what happened: “That’s it, they played harder than us. One through 15, whoever stepped on the floor just played harder than us.”
A lot of that trickles down from the top. The top being Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. Which might last night’s win made Thibs the fastest coach in NBA history to earn 100 career victories. He did it in 130 games. That’s one game faster than the previous record holder Avery Johnson and a dozen games better than former Bulls coach Phil Jackson. Who had Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen at his disposal by the way.
Thibodeau’s humility and no-nonsense attitude has infused his players. To wit: Carlos Boozer had a man’s game (24 points and 13 rebounds) and has been killing it against the Magic this season (23.3 points, 11 rebounds, 58 percent shooting in three games). But he refused to take any credit after the game.
Said Booz: “The real story honestly is our defense. Our defense was … that was probably one of the best performances we’ve had this season. It was fitting because they kicked our butt in Chicago, (and) got a big win. For us to come back and do this … it’s a big win for us.”
More from Joakim Noah: “It’s one game at the end of the day. But we felt like it was probably one of our best defensive efforts of the year. We just got to keep it up, keep learning from what we’re doing well, what we can do better, stay humble, stay driven and hopefully get the good thing at the end.”
You know, I often feel that this Bulls team should be an even bigger story than they are. Humble. Hard-working. Dedicated to the cause and each other. Unselfish. Basically, if you are a sports purist with a strong sense of basketball ethics, then you know these Bulls are a template for everything the game is supposed be about.
Take John Lucas III. Third string point guard. Barely even in the league. Called upon only at need. After scorching Miami last week, he went out last night and lit the Magic up for 20 points on 8-for-13 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range.
And check it out: The Bulls are 3-1 in their last four games minus Derrick Rose. With two of those wins coming against the Heat and Magic.
I’m sorry if this makes me sound like an unabashed homer, but Chicago is hoops heaven right now. The Bulls play good basketball. They play it the right way. They play it without the need for acclaim or excuses.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy sees it. And he sounds downright envious: “Chemistry is a very hard thing to explain. I think it’s one of those things, you know it when you have it. You have an idea how to build it; putting guys in roles that will hopefully make them comfortable in what you’re doing. But … there’s a lot of unknowns. [The 2009-10 Magic] did have very, very good chemistry and very, very high character and that’s what I see in the Chicago team now too.
“When I’m talking high character, I’m talking basketball character; guys who are unselfish, willing to play roles, not worried about how many shots they get. Guys who can come in not having played a lot and come in and be ready and help a team win, like a John Lucas is doing now for Chicago. Like a Jimmy Butler’s doing. To me, those are the great teams and not necessarily even record-wise, but those are the great teams and that’s what chemistry’s all about. I thought we had it that year and I certainly see it in the Bulls and I think that’s why they’ve been able to overcome the number of injuries they’ve been able to overcome.”
Yep. It’s as close to a basketball fairy tale as you could ask for. I have no idea if it’ll lead to a championship. But it makes for a great, great ride.
Orlando Injury Report:
Von Wafer: did not play yesterday against Miami (strained lower back)
After going 4-2 on their home-stand, the Bulls head to Orlando to start a two game road trip. One of the Bulls losses during their last home stand was to the Magic, but the Bulls can get their revenge on national TV tonight.
For the second straight game, Chicago will play a team that is coming off a game against the Miami Heat the night before (The Heat won both of these games, over Philly and Orlando). So Chicago is getting Miami’s table scraps at this point.
The Magic fell to the second place Heat last night, shooting under 40 percent, while also committing 18 turnovers. Dwight Howard scored 18 points and grabbed eleven rebounds, but didn’t record a block and had four turnovers.
Dwyane Wade scored 31 points overall, and 14 in the fourth quarter to help Miami beat their in-state rivals.
Howard played 41 minutes, Jameer Nelson played 34 and Jason Richardson logged 32. The tired legs will benefit Chicago tonight.
The Bulls topped the Sixers on Saturday night, as both teams were playing on the tail-end of back-to-backs. Without Derrick Rose, C.J. Watson stepped up and scored 20 points. Joakim Noah recorded another double-double (13 points, eleven rebounds) thanks to his solid free throw shooting (7-10).
The Bulls were dominated in the paint though, getting outscored 40-22. They were also outscored 19-5 in fast break points.
As usual the Bulls won the game on the offensive glass, bringing down 17 offensive rebounds, to the Sixers’ nine. They will need this effort again if they want to beat the Magic. It is going to be a tough battle on the boards, as Orlando is fourth in defensive rebounding percentage (.753).
The Magic won by five the last time these two teams met, to even the season series at one game apiece, and snap the Bulls eight game winning streak. Tonight will be the final time these two teams meet this regular season. As of today, Chicago is the first seed in the East and Orlando is the third, meaning these teams would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals (if both got that far). But there are a lot of games left, and things are bound to change.
And there could a big change for this match-up. And that change’s name is “Derrick Rose.” Rose nearly had a triple double (21 points, ten assists and eight rebounds) in the first game, but didn’t shoot particularly well (38.9 percent). He shot even worse in the second game, going just 6-22 (27.2 percent), but he still scored 17 points and added nine assists.
Rose is shooting 61.3 percent at the rim this year, but has gone just 46 percent from that area against the Magic. It may not matter much, as Rose could miss his fourth straight game due to a strained groin (he’s listed as doubtful). The Bulls are 9-4 without Rose this season, and 2-1 during this stretch (beating Miami and Philly, while inexplicably losing to Portland). Rose may not return until this Saturday, when Toronto visits the United Center.
Howard has been his usual dominating self against the Bulls, averaging 28.5 points and 16.5 rebounds. His counterpart, Joakim Noah, is averaging 6.5 points on 31.2 percent shooting. Jo is averaging ten boards a game, including four offensive. But it’s pretty clear why nearly every team in the NBA wanted Howard when he was “available.”
The Magic are 16-7 at home, holding opponents to 91.7 points in the Amway Center. Their last home loss came on March 1st against Oklahoma City.
Orlando is just 8-8 on the second night of back-to-backs though. They score 91.8 points per game when they come in with no rest.