Bulls Make Magic Disappear with New Tricks


Feb 24

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This could well be a fun stretch run for the Bulls, and not only in light of Tuesday’s impressive 120-102 domination of the Orlando Magic that had Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy doubting his team’s ability to be a contender. I don’t believe, meanwhile, it was meant as an insult to the Bulls, who put together arguably their best performance of the season in leading for all but 33 seconds. The Magic did pull within 83-82 late in the third quarter. But Derrick Rose, who led the Bulls with 22 points, then scored on a nifty baseline drive and a jumper as the Magic continued to drop off him.

“I didn’t want to lose the game,” said Rose. “We had too many games where it was close or games buzzer beater or I was missing a shot. I didn’t want to get to that situation, so I thought if they were leaving me open I was just going to shoot.”

The Bulls then took control in the fourth quarter with their hybrid lineup of Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, John Salmons, Tim Thomas and Brad Miller.

That group, with Thomas hitting a three, Salmons powering over J.J. Redick for a three-point play, Miller converting off a Salmons offensive rebound and Gordon with a pair of quick pull up jumpers, pushed the Bulls back ahead by 10 early in the fourth and the Bulls mercilessly added on for much of the fourth quarter, sending Van Gundy into paroxysms of doubt about his now 41-15 team.

“I was disappointed and disgusted with what I saw tonight,” Van Gundy said in a classic Van Gundy family rant. “It generally happens in the NBA that when you have that great of a disparity in energy on the court between teams, it’s no surprise there is that great of a disparity on the scoreboard as well. There is no question who had the energy, there is no doubt who came ready to play tonight. I thought there were two minutes in the third quarter when we played better than them. The other 46 minutes, they outplayed us. Our defense was horrible. They were very good at both ends and controlling the tempo. Our guys just didn’t try. It starts at the defensive end, we had chances to step in and didn’t so there were no stops. On the offensive end we did a good job throwing it to them. I thought all five guys and our starting lineup brought nothing to the game. I didn’t think that any of them brought near 100 percent. They got us off to a bad start to begin the game and then again at the start of the third quarter. It bothers me because these guys talk about being a contending team. We’re just kidding ourselves. I watch Boston and see them putting forth a much greater effort the whole game. Tonight the ball was going to the basket and we didn’t step in front of it. We’re not tough enough and our mentality is to do it at the offensive end.”

Dwight Howard did have 26 points and 12 rebounds, though the Bulls did a good job on him by choosing to throw the double team at home when he was on a first or second dribble, thus making it difficult to find the open three-point shooters.

So Rashard Lewis was three of 12 for 10 points and Hedo Turkoglu was six of 14 for 16 as the Magic was nine of 26 on threes.

And this has not generally been a poor Magic defensive team, which is why, in addition to Howard, they’ve been so impressive all season.

Orlando came into the game third in the NBA in defensive field goal percentage, second in three-point defense, first in holding opponents to the fewest assists and No. 4 overall in the cumulative defensive rankings for point differential.

But the Bulls shot a season high 56.5 percent, and were at 58.8 percent when Orlando emptied its bench with about three minutes left and the Bulls began hauling up garbage time jumpers. The Bulls outrebounded an Orlando team that is first in defensive rebounds and third overall and forced 15 turnovers for 19 points.

Aberration or trend?

Yes, the Bulls shot the ball exceedingly well with Gordon’s nine of 14 for 20 points on an array of very difficult looks.

“Everybody was a threat out there tonight and that’s the way we have to play,” said Gordon. “Tim Thomas out there can give people fits. The new guys bring more things to the table than we did before.”

And, yes, perhaps the key was an impressive bench performance from the core of new Bulls as Brad Miller had nine points and seven rebounds, John Salmons had 11 points and six rebounds and Tim Thomas had 17 points and hit four of six threes.

The Bulls reserves thus dominated Orlando’s bench 43-26 as Tyrus Thomas and Luol Deng played fewer minutes, though just barely, than Salmons and Tim Thomas.

Suddenly, it’s a nine player rotation that looked pretty effective.

Heck, Gordon even gave a Nocioni-like hard foul and got called for a flagrant and Miller stepped inside a crosscourt pass and broke away for a layup without anyone from the Magic even trying to catch him.

Rose, though, said Miller didn’t seem yet ready to challenge him to a race.

“You should have seen his expression when he dunked,” laughed Rose. “He gave us this goofy look on the bench like he can still jump.”

Yes, it was all smiles for the Bulls, who are starting to feel with a game like this that there perhaps are more to come.

It was an offensive show throughout as the team traded baskets early with the Bulls leading 30-27 after one quarter. With the reserves in again in the second quarter, the Bulls scored on nine straight possessions and led 63-54 at halftime as Miller got that steal and run out late in the second, the one man version of a buffalo stampede and Miller doing a nice job both pushing Howard out farther than Joakim Noah could from Howard’s desired post position and getting a nice pick and roll three-point play as Miller cleverly sealed Howard and took a pass over the top.

“Every three games we give up a big loss,” said Howard somewhat casually. “It happens, so we have to make sure it doesn’t happen a lot.

“We knew coming into this game that the Bulls were a much better team,” said Howard. “They run a lot harder. We weren’t ready for their intensity tonight. They were hitting shots and when they’re hitting shots and we’re turning the ball over it’s not good.”

Orlando looked like it was laying in the weeds as they got threes from Turkoglu and Anthony Johnson late in the third and a Courtney Lee jumper after a Miller turnover to pull within 83-82 with 1:41 left in the third. But after Lewis missed a three, Rose closed with those two scores and the reserve guys carried it home in the fourth.

“We’ve got some offensive options,” said Salmons. “We definitely can score the ball. We got the potential to be a really good offensive team. With all the options we have, it’s going to be hard for teams to matchup with us because they can’t really focus on one person.

“It’s a lot of talent on this team,” said Salmons. “They were already right there pushing for the playoffs. With the trade I think that put us over the top. I think we can make a run for it.”

I’m assuming he meant playoffs as the Bulls moved to 26-31 and aren’t quite scaring the Celtics yet. Though perhaps the Magic might not want the Bulls to get to sixth because shooters can get hot for a week or so.

“We have guys coming off the bench who know how to play,” said Tim Thomas, who shows no resentment or the malaise predicted for him when he was last with the Bulls and dropped from the team. “You got guys out there, second, third year, out there with energy. The times they get stuck you are bringing in guys like myself, John and Brad, who can play and understand what it takes to get the job done. That’s a huge difference.

“It’s a very talented team,” said Thomas. “We pretty much have all the pieces. We can match when teams go big we can go big. When teams go small, we can match that. We have the pieces.”

No, we’re not getting ahead of ourselves, but what I thought was almost as interesting to watch Tuesday was the rotation and use of players, especially the tenured Bulls who might see less time.

There has been much discussion in recent days of Rose being left out at the end of games, and again Rose sat out almost the entire fourth quarter after his two big baskets to end the third, only returning with the Bulls ahead by 17 when the Magic emptied their bench with 2:45 left.

“I still want to be in the game,” Rose said, but without rancor. (But) they (veterans) help a lot. They know the game. It makes the game easier. You’ve got a power forward telling you where to go. He’s telling you the right thing. I’m not used to that yet. I’m happy they are here.”

So I thought it was interesting to hear and watch coach Vinny Del Negro, whom I thought was sending a message to his team about the way it is going to be, and like it or lump it. But no more playing because you are young or make money or have been here. It’s about who plays harder and wants it more and you better like it.

It’s not an untypical method for most coaches, and, to some extent for rookie coach Del Negro it is a throwing down of the gauntlet. His view of my way or the highway. If he’s going down, he’s going down his way with the guys who want it.

Who knows. Sometimes you make a good team that way.

“My mindset from the beginning was the guys who play hard and give us the best chance to win are going to be out there,” said Del Negro. “Sometimes it is going to be your night and sometimes not. That is what it is all about being a team, about putting the team before yourself. Guys are going to have to get used to that.

“I thought we had a good rhythm out there (in the fourth quarter),” said Del Negro. “Kirk (Hinrich) was doing a good job and had good control out there. We got a nice lead so I’m not going to break the rhythm to get someone extra minutes. The job is to win the game.

“We don’t have any All-Stars,” Del Negro pointed out. “Guys are going to have to work their minutes. If guys really want to win and become a team they go out there work their minutes, support their teammates and be professional. Now that we have some other guys with experience and feel for the game we’ll see how it works. It’s early and we have a lot of basketball left, but I liked our demeanor and tone and our effort and focus from the tip. It’s an excellent win for us.”

And perhaps the beginning of Vinny’s Very Excellent Journey?

It looks like it should be worth following.

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