Bulls make the Magic go poof, goodbye


Jan 29

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The big thing for the Bulls Friday was defeating and outworking the Orlando Magic in a convincing 99-90 victory.

“It was big,” agreed Luol Deng, who led the Bulls with 26 points, 24 in the second half. “This is one of the teams everyone in the NBA has as a contender. We want to beat those teams. We want to send a message (about our team).”

So, indeed, the Bulls are beginning to in moving to 32-14 with wins over the Magic, Celtics and Heat, albeit at home, in the last month. The Bulls did so with Joakim Noah injured, and Friday with Derrick Rose suffering through ulcers.

“He wasn’t as aggressive as he usually is,” noticed Gilbert Arenas. “You could tell he was a little fatigued out there.”

Still, Rose, limited lately to a liquid diet (shakes and smoothies) and grabbing his stomach in apparent pain at times, played 38 minutes and although he shot six of 21, he had 22 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.

“I thought he was terrific,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. “He did not shoot the ball which I sort of expected because he has been off (not practicing, though also in a slump at 28 for 85 his last four games). I thought he played tough and I thought he made the right plays. They tried to get the ball out of his hands (with traps). He made some really good decisions. Taking everything into consideration, not practicing, not feeling good and to go out and do what he did, you can’t say enough about him. He looked the same (to me). It is amazing the way he plays, so hard, taking hits all the time. The thing I respect about his is he always gets up. He gets knocked down, no call. He has the same demeanor and then gets up and attacks the basket next time down. You cannot say enough about that attitude. It’s great leadership for our team.”

Indeed, it was special, though we almost take Rose for granted the way he competes and never seems to give in. The post game theme was filled with cheap shot comparisons to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, though Rose wasn’t getting into that one. He is who he is, and he just plays because that’s his nature and he truly loves this game.

“It was hard,” Rose conceded. “Every time I swallow it hurts. It was tough but nobody cares about that especially when you’re out there. They’re going to try and kill you. It was great (beating Orlando). That was one of the reasons that I played. I know I’m sick but at least I wanted to give my all out there. I’ll probably pass out or something, but I was going to play in this game. It’s a very important win. They smacked us both times we played them this year. For us to come out and play the way we played should build up our confidence.”

There also was Carlos Boozer, who had 16 points, 16 rebounds and four assists, second most on the team to Rose, as the Magic were double teaming Boozer in the second half, if not very aggressively.

“They were trying to get the ball out of my hands,” noted Boozer. “Luol got us going the whole third quarter (16 points to 17 for the Magic). He was on fire. We just kept finding the hot hand. (and Derrick) was great, I take my hat off to him. I told him as soon as the game was over, ‘Way to gut though it for us.’ He played a monster game, a great floor game. Great point guards do that. He gave us a big lift tonight.”

And, by the way, with the Celtics’ loss in Phoenix, the Bulls are now tied with Miami for second and just three games behind Boston with the Celtics on the road playing the Lakers, Kings and then back home to play Dallas and Orlando. That actually gives the Bulls a chance to catch or pass the Celtics by Feb. 6, which would give Thibodeau and the Bulls coaching staff a chance to actually coach the East All Stars.

Oh yes, there were those season high 40 points and 15 rebounds from Dwight Howard, which the Bulls endured, though with the right game plan.

It is the way to play the Magic, whose window for a championships seems to have closed. Yes, point guard Jameer Nelson left in the first quarter with a knee injury, though not said to be serious. But the defense and shooting that carried them to the Finals a few years back seems a memory with a patchwork of mercenaries from the recent major trades to save the team.

It’s hardly the same Orlando team that has in recent years dominated the Bulls and beat the Bulls 107-78 in the United Center in December. It was, really, an undisciplined, unintelligent Magic team defined by the wild, out of control jump shots of Arenas, Jason Richardson and Hedo Turkoglu, the latter also an incredible sieve on defense trying to handle Deng.

So the Bulls played it correctly, in effect, letting Howard get his and staying with the shooters, none of whom really beat you off the dribble or have the patience to not take quick shots. The Bulls did show a token so called “dig,” feinting to Howard when he put the ball on the floor as he never passes once he does that.

But the Bulls mostly left Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik, and Boozer alone on Howard. Howard did dominate, but the Magic was five of 21 on threes and shot themselves out in the end when they closed within three with 1:28 left.

Deng first made a huge play beating Turkoglu (why he was in there was curious the way Deng was killing him) on an out of bounds play and Rose finding Deng for the layup and 95-90 lead.

But then Turkoglu missed a long three, and after Kyle Korver missed a three, Deng picked off a lazy cross court pass from Arenas and Arenas and J.J. Redick missed long threes with time running out.

“They were really up on us at the three point line,” said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “We had no patience and didn’t move the ball. We didn’t do any of what we talked about. Deng dominated the second half. We didn’t guard him at all. This may have been Turk’s worst night of the year at both ends.

Yes, the best guy from Turkey was wearing a Bulls uniform.

“Down the stretch, we cut it to three and then took a bad shot,” said Van Gundy. “That’s where we made two awful offensive plays and one at the defensive end. We deserved to lose. The whole energy of the game changed in that third quarter and it went their way.”

And the game changed because of some of the little things the Bulls did that not only won the game but made something of a statement that none of these teams really are much to fear.

In the Bulls little statistical asterisk, the much maligned Keith Bogans scored eight points, and when he scores six or more the Bulls now are 11-0.

Though what was more significant and an early message was Bogans taking care of Howard.

Later it was Asik on defense against Howard and then Kurt Thomas dealing with Jason Richardson.

“It’s going to be physical,” agreed Arenas. “You have two top teams trying to establish dominance so you’re going to get physical play.”

Much as it was significant to make a stand against Miami two weeks, ago, it was important for the Bulls to stand up to the Magic, who’d embarrassed them in games for several years and last year Howard knocked Rose out of games twice with what could have been serious injuries.

Rose, as is his custom, made no excuses. But his teammates came to stand up and play.

The first one was midway through a first quarter in which the Bulls would lead 24-23 as Rose came out to, at least, show he wasn’t going to be passing, shooting three of 11 and scoring seven points. That did take out Deng some as Thibodeau likes to go early to Deng or Boozer, and sometimes when Deng doesn’t get a fast start he will fade from the ball. Though that would change after halftime in a big way.

Boozer missed a baseline fade with the Magic up 9-8. Nelson rebounded the long miss and ran out, which the Magic likes to do, and they did finish with a 24-7 edge in fast break points. In transition, Bogans was matched up with Howard. But instead of letting Howard get position as Nelson pulled up to shoot a three, Bogans buried both forearms into Howard and ran him off the court and out of bounds. Howard angrily tried to toss Bogans away, and then was late getting back as Howard complained to the officials about Bogans.

I know. Are you serious!

Bogans would make a nice interior pass to Boozer for a slam dunk on the next possession.

Though perhaps for the Bulls it was a bit of a signal that maybe you’re big, but you’re not scary.

The Bulls had a rough second quarter as Boozer got some time on Howard and wasn’t able to hold him off at all as Howard got deep position and spun and drove for easy baskets, the Magic closing the half with a 15-8 margin and leading 51-46 at halftime. Korver and Ronnie Brewer did a nice job of keeping the Bulls within winning distance with several hustling plays, and it wasn’t so much halftime adjustments than what was necessary.

Thibodeau is good at recognizing when one of his main players needs to get going, and it was clear after a zero for two first half, the Bulls had to work to Deng. Deng’s had a terrific season and should be in consideration along with Boozer to be a reserve on the All Star team, though Deng’s low profile likely will give him little chance.

“You can’t say enough about Luol,” said Thibodeau. “In my opinion, he has had an all star type of season. He has done everything for our team. He has guarded multiple positions, he has provided scoring, rebounding and play making. I know his teammates and coaches certainly appreciate everything he does for this team. I don’t know where we would be without him.”

The Bulls opened the second half with Deng curling off a Thomas screen for a pass from Rose for a jumper, and Deng was off, adding a pair of threes and scoring 11 points in the first three minutes of the quarter to give the Bulls a 60-54 lead.

“In the first half, the ball didn’t really find me,” said Deng. “So I did what the team needed, played defense, rebounded. “In the second half, they tried to double team Boozer and (stop) Derrick’s penetration. I was wide open and I did a good job of knocking down my shots.”

The other big key, I thought, was Thomas picking up his fourth foul 90 seconds into the quarter. After Thomas’ 22 points against Milwaukee Monday, the Magic stayed with Thomas and he was scoreless in the first half.

So with that fourth foul, Thibodeau had to go to Asik, whom Thibodeau tends to be reluctant to use. Similarly with James Johnson, who went to the D-league and had a fine debut Friday with 28 points.

I’ve been impressed with Asik’s knowledge of how to play defense and in watching him, though he isn’t strong, he along with Thomas probably are the Bulls smartest big men in knowing how to help, cut down angles and make it more difficult for their opponent to score.

Asik held Howard relatively in check in the third quarter with nine points, which enabled the Bulls to space out to an 80-68 lead going into the fourth quarter.

That was mostly thanks to a 15-2 run that was highlighted by those Deng threes and one by Rose after a huge Howard slam off a Richardson lob pass.

But Asik made several subtle defensive plays that helped keep Orlando from scoring as the Bulls pulled out front.

Asik stays in front of Howard well, and seeing the rookie Howard sometimes got distracted thinking it would be too easy and everything stops. So Howard then traveled trying to set up Asik. On the next Magic possession, Turkoglu went over a Howard side screen. But Asik stayed with Turkoglu while cutting off the passing angle to Howard and Turkoglu missed shooting high over Asik’s outstretched arm. Asik continued to bother the Magic’s pick and roll, playing the creases and recovering to Howard, and then on the Magic’s last play of the quarter rolled out to Turkoglu shooting knowing there was no time to make a pass to Howard and Turkoglu missed another poor runner with a hand in his face.

The Bulls all around played that well, not running to stop Howard, but digging in and recovering back to the shooters, which the Bulls with limited athletic talent do as well as anyone. It’s a reason they lead the league in opponent’s field goal percentage and the Magic was five of 21 on threes.

“They just played better than we did,” said Van Gundy. “They came out and played hard and we didn’t.”

Neither team could much get it going early in the fourth quarter when Arenas swung a wild elbow at Thomas running down court. He missed, and Thomas gestured to the officials’ who obviously missed it.

OK, Thomas apparently took a mental note.

A few possessions later with the officials looking toward the ball, Thomas flung Richardson down out of bounds. Something of that “Don’t mess with us” message that was good to see against Howard and this Orlando team. Thomas would later draw a big charge on Arenas in another payback.

Richardson, who is in the final season of his contract and not likely to return to Orlando, was furious and had to be restrained by the officials from going to the Bulls bench in a timeout with 3:36 left and the Bulls leading 91-82.

“It was a hard game,” said Rose. “I’m glad we came out and played hard. There were times when they got the lead and we kept fighting back into the game. All of the other people on the team came up and played huge. This was my first time touching a ball in three days. It was tough, but if you want to be tough in this league, you have to fight through pain. It’s mind over matter.”

And although it was a stuttering close for the Bulls with the Magic getting within three points, it was appropriate on this night for Deng to made the two key baskets to keep the Magic away.

Coming out of a timeout with 2:52 left and leading 91-84, the Magic were now trapping Rose hard. Deng got the ball on the left wing and just blew by a helpless Turkoglu, who looked like he was back to not caring, though Howard failed to help as he didn’t want to leave Boozer.

That kept the Bulls ahead by nine, and when Orlando made that one last run behind Howard, the Bulls ran a beauty of an out of bounds play to effectively clinch the game.

Deng inbounded to Rose on top of the floor. Boozer and Thomas then set a double screen with Thomas on top. As Turkoglu tried to follow Deng, Thomas stepped out, forcing Turkoglu to veer out high. That gave Deng room to cut to the right baseline as Howard didn’t follow to help. Rose hit Deng, who pump faked Howard and made the layup for the 95-90 Bulls lead with 1:22 left, and then the Bulls survived the Magic’s brain dead threes to close out the win.

“He gets 40,” Deng said of Howard. “We win. We’ll take that any time.”

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