The basics: Orlando (41-14) at Chicago (25-31). The Bulls are 15-11 at home and the Magic are 19-8 on the road.
The stakes: The Bulls are one and a half games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference…and the Nets are only a half game behind the Bulls, thanks to Devin Harris’ half-court miracle shot against the Sixers last night. The Magic, meanwhile, are trying to catch the Kevin Garnett-less Celtics for the East’s second seed.
The analysis: I keep harping on how opposing big men keep carving up rare roast Beast Bull, but that’s only because it’s an ongoing and fatal flaw that Vinny Del Negro has yet to fix. (Assuming Vinny has any idea how to fix it.) Troy Murphy killed us with a season-high 27 points (not to mention 14 rebounds) in Sunday’s road loss to the Pacers, and we got blasted 17-10 on the offensive glass. Speaking of which: Trouble Alert! The Bulls have given up an average of 18 offensive boards in their last three games. And now we’re facing a frontcourt that includes Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Ruh roh, Raggy.
Conventional wisdom (read that: statistics) tells us that Lewis is the guy we should be most worried about: Sweet Lew has averaged 21.0 PPG while shooting 43.5 percent from distance in Orlando’s last six games against the Bulls. All of which were Magic wins, by the way. But forget him. I’m most worried about Superman. He’s averaged a quiet 18.5 PPG (on 63 percent shooting), 14.5 RPG and 3.5 BPG against the Bulls this season, and he’s been on fire this month. I can see him having a 30/20 game. I really can. (In fact, Dwight had 32 points and 17 rebounds against the Heat on Sunday.) Is it too late to get Brad Miller a Super Suit?
I really hope whatever mystery illness caused the Bulls to chuck up that loss in Indiana has run its course. If not, I’ll happily whip up a batch of Momma McHale’s homemade chicken soup. (Now with 50 percent real chickens!) And I hope Vinny’s updated his playbook to include something other than “Ben Gordon Dribble Around And Shoot.” And for the love of Lincoln’s hairy wart, no more benching Derrick Rose! Please! I’m begging here! Don’t make me beg. It’s humiliating.
Bonus quote: Regarding his decision to bench Rose against the Pacers, Vinny said: “[Rose] is still young and he’s got to learn defensively. When you’ve got Kirk sitting over there as one of your best defenders and a guy’s hurting you, then I’ve got to get Kirk out there and try to control the penetration. We still weren’t able to control T.J. [Ford] the way we would like. He carves people up a lot.” To recap: Vinny benched Derrick for Kirk because Ford was burning him, but when Ford burned Kirk, well, that’s just something Ford does to a lot of people. Do I need to explain what’s wrong with that reasoning?
Random and mildly alarming stat: Ben Gordon is averaging 28.2 points in his last six games. However, he’s averaging only 11.4 points in his last five against the Magic.
Keys to victory: Can we kidnap Howard, like they did to Damon Wayans in Celtic Pride? No. Damn. Then I guess we’ll have to put a big, Brad Miller-sized body on Dwight and hope for the best. Miller’s outside shooting can hopefully pull Howard out of the paint to open things up for Rose’s penetration. Ben needs to figure out how to score against these guys. Somebody has to keep a hand or two in Lewis’ face. Derrick and/or Kirk need to contain Rafer Alston, who adapted faster to his new team than I would have expected (17 assists in two games). And our frontcourt guys have to block out and crash the boards. That’s absolutely essential. Like washing eating, breathing, or washing your hands after fist-bumping with Larry Hughes. (He might be contangious.) Oh, and don’t let Dwight Howard shoot from 70 feet. He’s deadly from that range…