Nothing magical about the Bulls against Orlando


Mar 9

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There are two ways to play Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic. You single cover Howard and stay with their three point shooters, giving Howard his points but cutting down their overall offense. Or you double Howard not to let him beat you and take your chances the perimeter guys will miss.

The Bulls basically chose neither plan, at least early in the game as the Magic jumped out to a 37-22 first quarter lead and then held on late in defeating the Bulls 99-94.

Howard, who faces his trade fate in a week with the NBA trading deadline March 15, was dominant with 29 points, 18 rebounds (seven offensive) and three blocks while the Magic made 11 three pointers on 75 percent first quarter shooting.

“Our goal was to let Dwight play one on one in the post against me and take away the shot,” said Joakim Noah, who had nine points and 10 rebounds. “The problem was giving them both. They hit six threes in the first quarter and Dwight was doing his thing. We weren’t able to stop (either) one. As the game went on, we did a little bit better. But it is disappointing to lose because we had out chances.”

Taj Gibson

The Bulls’ eight game winning streak was ended as they fell to 33-9. Carlos Boozer, who took some time defending Howard and actually did reasonably well, was the Bulls best offensive option with 26 points and seven rebounds while Taj Gibson had another good game and played some with Boozer, scoring 14 points. Otherwise, Derrick Rose was six of 22 shooting for 17 points while Luol Deng was one of nine for five points. Though Deng has shot the three well before Thursday, he is 14 of 41 the last four games and said afterward he might need a few games off to rest his injured left wrist.

That would be a further blow to the Bulls with Richard Hamilton likely out the rest of the month after a shoulder injury Monday and C.J. Watson out perhaps a few more games with a sprained ankle.

“I hate talking about my wrist,” said Deng of the tear he suffered Jan. 21 after which he missed two weeks but passed on surgery. “We’re going to talk about it, talk with the medical staff and Thibs. The past few games it’s (pain) escalated a little bit. I’ve got to kind of bring it down again. I’ve been managing it the last few games.

“I said from the start I was not taking that route (surgery),” Deng reiterated. “It’s mostly going to be rest. It’s getting better. It’s definitely better than when I first did it and first came back. There was a period of time when it felt great. I don’t know how many games (I might miss). The pain is kind of high again. We’ve got to control and monitor it. I proved I can play with it. I’ve got to find a way to adjust my game. Some days it’s going to feel great. Some days it’s going to feel terrible. I’ve got to bring it down.”

Talk about your big matzoh ball hanging out there.

With Hamilton going down the talk was whether the Bulls need the insurance of another shooting guard. And now All-Star Deng goes out, which had Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau giving rookie Jimmy Butler his most playing time in a month.

Butler had five points and three rebounds in about nine minutes, mostly scoring from the free throw line as he’s a driver with a shot that still looks more like a line drive double to the wall. More troublesome, perhaps, is the lack of regard rookies have, fair or not.

Midway through the fourth quarter after the Bulls rallied back from 18 behind to tie at 84, Butler was called for a ridiculous, phantom foul to give Hedo Turkoglu three foul shots. It’s not right, but also not unusual as rookies tend to be monitored more closely, which is the risk when they play. Which is one reason Thibodeau has been reluctant to use his rookies.

Thibodeau got Butler out right away with the Bulls then trailing 87-84 with 5:46 left. The Bulls tightened up their defense and took a 91—89 lead on a Boozer 15 footer with 2:55 left.

Carlos Boozer

The Bulls then had several chances backed by an expectant crowd to pull out another one. But it was a shocking close to the game — one of those clichéd too deep a hole to come back from explanations — as Kyle Korver missed six fourth quarter threes, most wide open as the Bulls were one of 10 on threes in the fourth quarter and could not close even as the Magic were limping in with 21.4 percent fourth quarter shooting.

Courtside patrons were in danger of being hit by oddly bouncing balls as the teams combined to shoot two of 16 on threes in the fourth quarter, though the Magic endured with 13 of 17 free throws in the quarter.

“Yes, there is some luck to it,” agreed Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “Towards the end we had two guys laying on the ground and they don’t get a basket (Jason Richardon and Jameer Nelson colliding leaving Korver with no one within 15 feet of him and he missed a three while ahead 91-89 with 2:12 left). We got the rebound and were able to call a time out. I thought our defense was pretty good. However, they had a lot of shots that could have gone down. Kyle had some open looks as did Derrick. So did some of our guys. Some nights they go in, others they don’t.”

Make or miss league, as Thibodeau likes to say.

Thibodeau was furious about the Bulls lack of defense, though I didn’t think it was that bad.

“We have to be ready to play,” said Thibodeau. “That comes back on me. I have to get them ready to play. We got in a hole. That hole should not have been there. You cannot do that against this team. They got their confidence early. They outworked us. They crushed us with the second shot. You get what you deserve in this league. We are capable of playing much better defense. From how we play the ball to how we get back in transition to how we challenge shots to how we finish, every aspect (is a problem). You can’t be jogging back in transition, two going to one to give a wide open three. We are capable of much better. We have to have discipline.”

This Bulls team doesn’t take games off even if it looked like it early. The Magic’s shooting was impressive, and as that’s all everyone but Howard does sometimes they go in from anywhere.

“We tried to run them off their spots,” said Rose. “But they’re a team who doesn’t care if you contest their threes. They will shoot them anyway.”

Perhaps the Bulls’ defensive contests weren’t as aggressive as usual, but they were mostly there. This seemed more a weary team playing its fourth game in five nights. Basically, no one is allowed to complain this season because everyone has unique schedules. But you do get tired. Look, sometimes the turndown service at the Ritz or Four Seasons is late and sometimes you have to get your own shrimp on the team plane, and I don’t mean John Lucas III.

No, really, that seemed more what the Bulls faced Thursday. They contested and competed, though not quite with their usual flair and coltish romp.

Maybe it was still more questions about Dwight Howard’s future, which players had to roll their eyes about again before the game.

“Definitely getting old,” Rose said in answer to another question about whether he was sick of it (yes, reporters have answers set up for weary players as well). “I’m sick and tired of hearing it. Chicago, marketing wise, is a great city. But I’m cool with teammates I have. We have a winning record. (Not) like we need to change anything. It’s not up to me. It’s up to the front office.”

Though you’d say with Deng now ailing again the front office, which technically is in the back of the Berto Center, would look to make a trade. But with players out hurt again and Lucas and Butler starting to get more playing time, it certainly lessens any trade options the Bulls might have. Given Deng’s situation, you probably couldn’t even make a deal with Orlando even if Howard did want to play in Chicago. He offered before the game that it was cold here, though since he’s prominently mentioned Brooklyn as a destination I have to check if those solar flares have warmed the borough.

We love to highlight Rose compared to Howard, though like with Dennis Rodman a decade ago, Howard would become a favorite quickly if he were wearing Bulls colors. Heck, he’d probably play one game in one of those Benny the Bull heads. Not that he was talking at all about Howard, but you could have made the connection earlier when Van Gundy was praising Rose before the game.

“Rose is a guy who’s just all about winning and making his teammates better,” Van Gundy said. “It’s not about him. It’s not about gaining publicity and attention. It’s not about his numbers. It’s just about winning games.”

Since Hamilton, meanwhile, has missed so much time, the Bulls can look at his return probably in April as the late season addition they need. How’s that for spin? Even Newt may not have thought of that one whether here or on a Mars colony. Yes, so forget Dwight. The Bulls may get Rip.

But even with that miserable start, the Bulls agreed they had this game. It was shocking, really, to see Korver, a truly great shooter, miss so many wide open shots, likely any one of which could have broken open the game for the Bulls. I felt badly for Korver after the game as he stepped up to address his failures. It is what also makes sports so unique, the measure of success and failure on display daily like Rose’s game winner in Milwaukee Wednesday. It’s perfect for today’s instant demands world where we want to know the answer immediately, where patience is often an antique concept.

Korver is one of the nicer people you’d meet anywhere, and you can almost meet him anywhere as when the team travels he’s likely on off time at a soup kitchen or some thrift shop donating something. He’s got a dry wit and keen insights into the game. But he doesn’t get asked many media questions because of limited playing time. So there was a pitying of reporters (usually used for turtledoves, but pity seemed the salient part) flocking around Korver’s locker waiting for him to explain.

I felt the sum was he missed and wished he hadn’t, but someone needed sound.

“At least three of them (I thought were in the) bottom of bucket,” said Korver, who’d made eight of his last 12 coming into the game. “On one play everyone falls down and I’m wide open in the corner and it goes in and out. I need to come through on those. But I was told a long time ago, shooters shoot. If I had another, I’d shoot that, too. Sometimes you make them, sometimes you miss. Tonight it hurts. A couple of them felt really good. It hurts when you want to come through for your team. Big game, wide open threes. You want to knock them down for your team. I like to come through in these situations. It did not happen. It’s a hard one. It will be tough to sleep. But I’ll get back tomorrow, get some shots up and get ready for Saturday.”

Everyone paused a bit and when Korver refused to cry the paddling waddled off.

There was some terrific stuff down the stretch for the Bulls, though. Rose had a jaw dropping crossover to beat Howard for a layup to get the Bulls back within 89-88 with 5:15 left after trailing by 10 early in the fourth. Korver would miss three threes in 24 seconds after that as Rose and Noah flew around to get offensive rebounds.

“It’s disappointing to lose the way we lost,” said Noah. “But we fought hard. That’s what I love about this team. We’re going t keep fighting. We had out chances.”

Actually, it was Korver with seven points in 56 seconds late in the second quarter that helped the Bulls even get back into the game. They were down 52-34 with four minutes left in the first half when Korver got going and Rose finished the half with a 30 footer at the buzzer to cut Orlando’s lead to 57-52 at halftime.

“I was surprised (Korver missed),” said Rose. “He has such a great touch for shooting. You’ve got to live with it. His job is to shoot the ball. They go in the majority of the time. We want him to keep his confidence and keep shooting it. I was just missing shots. It’s definitely not going to stop me. I shot worse before. We came out sluggish; they were hitting shots that were contested. They gained confidence and you can’t let that (happen) for a team. Then we had a chance to win the game and just did not win it.

“The way we played this team in the past was pushing the ball and making Dwight run, and we didn’t do that,” said Rose of a Magic 15-4 edge in fast breaks. “I just couldn’t get a feel. It was weird not being able to hit my layups and not getting into the groove of the game. All my shots were short.”

There’s only so far you can push yourself sometimes. The Bulls got back within 73-71 late in the third before Jason Richardson, who had 18, connected on two threes for that eight point lead after three. The Bulls pitched a basketball version of a shutout in the fourth as the Magic went more than four minutes in the fourth without scoring before those three free throws for Turkoglu. But the Bulls could not make that shot to get some separation. TNT broadcasting the game posted a statistic before Boozer made it 91-89 on a jumper that the Bulls had missed eight straight shots with a chance to tie or take the lead while the Magic slumbered.

“I felt the whole second half we were close, one clean look for me or Booz or Kyle or Lu and we were right there,” said Rose. “And we just couldn’t get over the hump.”

Later with the Bulls ahead 91-89 before that Korver miss with half the Magic players rolling around on the floor in agony, Boozer got blocked by Howard awfully close to a goal tend. Finally, Ryan Anderson put the Bulls away with a three after Howard tied it at 91 with a rim shaking lob slam dunk, and the Magic closed it out with free throws.

“Probably had some tired legs,” said Boozer. “But we fought back and were a couple of shots way from winning. Same shots we had all season. We’ll have those shots again and make them.”

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