Bulls with convincing win in Orlando


Jan 7

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If Dwight Howard doesn’t want to play for the Bulls after what he witnessed Friday night in Orlando, then he probably doesn’t care that much about success.

The Bulls methodically made the Magic disappear — I know, corny — in a fairly comfortable 97-83 victory that moved the Bulls to 7-1 with their best start since the 1996-97 season.

“Quite simply, we’re not on that level right now,” acknowledged Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “And that’s OK. I’m not saying that crying or complaining. That’s just how it is. You’ve got to face reality. We’ve got to put in the work to reach that level.”

The Bulls got 21 points each from Derrick Rose and Luol Deng and 20 points and 13 rebounds from Carlos Boozer. They outhustled and outrebounded the team with the game’s most dominant rebounder, 46-37 with 14 offensive rebounds (18-8 on second chance points). They had 27 assists on 38 baskets, including 10 assists along with eight rebounds from Rose playing with that sore elbow. While Orlando’s individual game yielded 15 assists and no starter with more than three.

“We did anything to win,” said Rose. “That was the whole mindset. We just tried to come out aggressive. We tried to get guys going early. That was the whole game plan. Especially with Dwight you have to run (11-4 fast break edge). They have great shooters and you have to contest their shots and get out into the open court.”

And maybe after watching all this you aren’t sure about Howard, who had the most uninspired 28 points and 15 rebounds you’ll see.

Watching the Magic play you really get the sense everyone now is enduring the time until Howard likely is traded somewhere.

Yes, the Magic did make it close in the fourth quarter, getting within 80-77 on a Howard short hook after backing Joakim Noah deep into the lane after the Bulls had led by 17 earlier in the second half.

Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau then called a timeout and replaced Noah with Omer Asik. Rose found Jason Richardson wary of him going to the basket and leaning. Richardson stayed just a bit too far off Kyle Korver, who Rose hit for one of his five threes in a breakout 18-point game. That made it 83-77 Bulls with 5:48 left.

“It is nothing new with him,” said Taj Gibson, who had seven points in the bench’s 29-12 edge and good help defense on Howard. “He (Korver) is one of the shooters on this team. He was on today. He is unstoppable when he is on.”

Carlos Boozer

Asik then thwarted Howard, who missed a hook in the lane. Rose missed a three, but Boozer grabbed the rebound in a strong game and Rose then blew past Jameer Nelson with Howard unable to react and was fouled by Glen Davis.

“Biggest issues tonight were their offensive rebounds and loose balls,” said Van Gundy, one of the game’s more candid coaches. “They react to things quicker and understand the value of possessions. Rebounding was a major issue and the turnovers were a major issue. Tonight wasn’t a bad night. Tonight we got beat by a team who played a lot harder with a lot more focus.”

Rose made both free throws to go up 85-77. And then in one of the most intriguing substitutions, which worked well for the Bulls, Thibodeau went without a center and used Gibson with Boozer — yes, Boozer — on Howard. Boozer went on to play good defense on Howard, and the Bulls were fouling Howard late as he’s a poor free throw shooter and could rotate their big men onto him, a definite advantage.

The Bulls had been leaving Noah pretty much alone on Howard the first half, using the strategy they employed last season when they single covered Howard, who got 40 points, but the Bulls won.

Later the Bulls would change up with a dig from on top or a wing or big collapsing to help, invoking changeups in the coverage that seemed to keep the Magic unhinged.

“Thibs is letting me do whatever I want on defense,” said Gibson. “He just let’s me switchout on any position. He let’s me guard one through five. Dwight is tough. Every time we switched, it was like wrestling a bear down there.”

Teams generally hate to see someone get off for big games like that, but with Orlando it’s vital to keep their three point game in check. With a mostly unathletic team, that’s done staying on the shooters. And Orlando was seven of 20 on threes with top gunner Ryan Anderson one of seven. And when they are missing those they often seem to give up on the game, as Van Gundy noticed.

“I thought he (Anderson) rushed a couple, but the real issue is he didn’t get in the battle tonight,” said Van Gundy. “He didn’t rebound the ball, he missed some rotations defensively. If you’re going to base your game on shooting and you have nights like this there’s no way to help us.”

Boozer did a nice job fighting Howard in the post, leaving an impatient Hedo Turkoglu to heave up a runner the Bulls retrieved. Deng then blew by the ineffective Turkoglu and missed a runner. But he retrieved his own miss and was fouled, making one of two for an 86-77 lead with 4:18 left.

Turkoglu was just brutal, unable to stay with Deng and taking curious shots when Howard seemed to have an advantage.

“We had defensive breakdowns,” Van Gundy added. “Deng was just by us all night.”

Boozer then stripped Howard in the lane as Howard was trying to dunk a high/low pass. But Jason Richardson was fouled and hit a pair of free throws to get Orlando within seven with 3:53 left. Boozer missed a jumper and Howard made one of two free throws when Gibson fouled him coming down to help.

Rose then had a terrific effort illustrative of the difference between the two teams, the Magic in the Finals two years ago but fading and the Bulls with that goal.

Rose missed a runner over a Boozer brush screen, but rebounded his own miss over Howard and made a pair of free throws for an 88-80 lead with 3:14 remaining. Earlier in the quarter with the Bulls ahead 75-71 and Orlando making its first run, Rose missed a drive. But as Howard and Noah battled for the ball, Rose ran back in from out of bounds and tipped the ball to Boozer, who threw to an open Korver for a three and 78-71 margin.

“They just played hard,” said Howard. “Everybody knew what they had to do. Guys came off the bench and they know what to do when they came into the game. They didn’t step outside their boundaries. They did exactly what their coaches asked them to do. And we have to be the same way.

Sounded like an indictment of the Orlando coaches and players, but that could just be me.

Gibson then got Howard on a switch and held him off and Howard came up short with a lefty leaner in the lane as it stayed 88-80. The Bulls went the other way and Boozer took a pocket pass on the pick and roll from Rose and was fouled, making both for a 90—80 lead. Jameer Nelson missed a baseline jumper and then Boozer took a pass at the elbow from Rose for a jumper and 92-80 lead with 2:13 left and that was pretty much it.

Korver would add his fifth three and the Bulls were off to Atlanta to finish off this opening stretch of seven of their first nine on the road.

“It’s a little frustrating, but it’s one game,” said Howard. “We know what we did to put ourselves in position to lose. We just have to come back the next game and play a lot better, which we will do. It’s really not about the offensive end, but the defensive end. When I go help and try to block shots, everybody has got to come back and get rebounds and that’s one area that we struggled with tonight. But like I said, we’ll be better the next game. We know what we need to do. We just have to do it.”

Nothing like making sure to blame everyone else.

Yes, it seems obvious watching the Magic that Howard is just counting the days now until he is traded. But you also have to wonder about him.

There was this sequence early in the fourth quarter with the Bulls leading 75-69. Davis laid a brutal screen on Deng that had him out of the game for a bit. Davis then rolled to the basket and took a pass from Nelson and, to his credit, Noah rode Davis hard out of bounds and into the courtside row of photographers. Davis, who doesn’t haul his butt up very quickly under most circumstances, stayed down on his back after breaking his fall by taking down official John Goble. Davis lay there face up for a bit, sort of like a hippo taking a sunbath, and Howard stood over him. Howard then rubbed his hands together and mimicked shocking Davis like an EMT and pulled Davis up.

It was a funny bit, and it seemed about the most Howard enjoyed himself during the game. I’m all for not taking the game too seriously. But Howard can make a mockery of things at times, like in this case, and you wonder just what you’d be getting with him. Is he really serious enough to play with guys who care? Or is he just a big kid who likes to slip into a cape and assume he’s someone else and play make believe?

Most teams though, I assume, would take their chances to find out.

Richard Hamilton was out again with his sore groin after playing in his Detroit homecoming and C.J. Watson remained out with his elbow injury, though both were with the team.

And with Noah pretty much taking on the single coverage, the Magic went to Howard to start and jumped ahead 10-2 as Howard would go on to have 14 in the first quarter. It’s not particularly significant, but the Bulls opened again with a slashing drive from Deng. He missed.

I’ve noticed that the Bulls open every game with a Deng shot, which it seems Thibodeau uses as a reward for Deng’s hard play and big minutes. Larry Brown always gave shots to Ben Wallace in Detroit as a thank you even though they were, essentially, wasted efforts the way Wallace shot. But it is a way coaches show appreciation.

Luol Deng
Coaches handle the opening different ways. Many, like Phil Jackson, throw the ball inside to their big men, even if he’s not a big scorer like the Bulls did with Bill Cartwright and then Luc Longley. The idea was to make the defense react inside, in theory, then opening more space for the perimeter players.

Deng would come back with seven points in the first and Rose with a dozen as both connected on threes and quickly erased Orlando’s lead to trail 27-26 after one quarter. The Bulls missed Hamilton, whom they hope didn’t hurt himself worse by playing in Detroit, as Ronnie Brewer again was shaky with his shot.

The Bulls went to the bench to open the second and both teams sputtered with Orlando two of eight and the Bulls two of seven. Though the Bulls would again see competent play from John Lucas, who, at least, isn’t hesitant and had four points and two assists in nine minutes and the Bulls again didn’t really lose any ground when he was in.

It does appear to be an unemotional, almost indifferent Orlando team, and the Bulls regulars came back midway through the second quarter and jumped on them to take a 53-43 halftime lead.

“Everybody can score, which I think is a benefit,” said Van Gundy of his team. “But the ball sticks a lot because guys want to create their own play. I don’t think it’s a selfishness, I think it’s the way the guys approach the game. We’ve either got to get out of that habit or we’ve got to find a better way to use our rotations so we can get some guys out on the floor who can make the offense work.”

Boozer had a big quarter and even had a slam dunk, so everyone stop sending me those clips of when he was with the Jazz and dunked. Deng had a runout fast break score after a Turkoglu miss as Turkoglu trotted after him and Boozer closed the half with a nice turnaround 15 footer.

“I feel like everybody came in and contributed,” said Noah, who had four points and 10 rebounds and sat out the last six minutes. “John Lucas came in ready. Kyle Korver hit some huge shots. Guys are playing for one another. We are not distracted. We are all about getting better.”

The Bulls surged ahead by 17 early in the third with a 9-2 start culminated by a two handed Rose stuff on a two-on-one after Rose stripped Howard with the Bulls collapsing. The play was ESPN SportsCenter’s No. 1 highlight.

Rose wore a sleeve for his injured left elbow, but players wear so much armor these days it’s difficult to tell if there’s a problem. He looked good, but Rose always does when he’s hurt.

“There’s not much he can’t do but I thought that he had a really good command of the game,” said Thibodeau. “When he needed to score he scored. He did a really great job of play making.”

The Magic responded with three consecutive three pointers as the Bulls sagged more into Howard. Both teams then applied more pressure and the Bulls couldn’t get anything to drop, three offensive rebounds on one possession still leading to nothing. Noah missed a pair of tipins as he’s having trouble finishing around the basket, but the Magic were stalled as well and couldn’t get closer than trailing 73-62 after three.

“The Bulls’ defense is excellent, but we didn’t move the ball well,” lamented Van Gundy, also noting the Magic’s seven third quarter turnovers that kept them from getting back into the game.

Orlando did get a couple of early fourth quarter scores from Turkoglu, but it almost felt like a big kid boxing a little guy with the Bulls over the Magic. Like when the big kid holds the little guy with his arm extended against his forehead as the little kid windmills punches into midair.

The Magic’s own inertia was too much for it to overcome combined with the Bulls own implacable defensive determination.

“Everybody just knows their role,” said Gibson. “Everybody understands what you have to do to get to the playoffs and make another deep run. We are a solid group. We are all cool, all fun, and hang out together. There is no animosity and understand there is one goal: To win.”

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