Tonight against the Chicago Bulls, the Orlando Magic tempted fate by trying to make it 3 straight games playing down to the level of their competition, only to "flip the switch" and seize the lead at will and come up with the win. It didn't work: poor effort on the glass and some ice-cold shooting doomed them to their 9th defeat of the year, losing by a final score of 101-93. In his third game since re-joining the starting lineup, Matt Barnes led Orlando with 23 points and 5-of-6 shooting from three-point range, while reserves Ryan Anderson (12 points, 9 rebounds) and J.J. Redick (11 points on 68.8% effective field goal shoting) soundly outplayed the starters at their respective positions. Indeed, Rashard Lewis sat out the latter stages of the 4th quarter while Anderson helped the Magic rally. Despite his 3-of-15 shooting performance, Carter probably would have played down the stretch had he not rolled his left ankle trying to elevate for a layup; Josh Robbins reports that Carter insists the injury isn't serious and that he'll attempt to play in the Magic's next game this Tuesday. In any case, the Bulls didn't necessarily out-play the Magic, but they out-worked and out-hustled them, which proved to be the difference.
|Team||Pace||Efficiency||eFG%||FT Rate||OReb%||TO Rate|
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;|
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
Bulls point guard Derrick Rose led all scorers with 30 points, just 2 shy of his career-high, while earning a career-best 10 free-throw attempts. Rookie power forward Taj Gibson also notched a career-high mark, with 7 offensive rebounds. Lewis lost Gibson and backup center Brad Miller on the offensive glass far too many times tonight, prompting coach Stan Van Gundy to pull him for good at the 5:55 mark with his team facing a 15-point deficit, its largest of the night. After the game, Van Gundy said his power forwards "have gotta take a little more pride in taking other guys off the glass." Friday, they allowed Wolves power forward Kevin Love to snare 8 offensive rebounds, so it's easy to see why Van Gundy's so concerned.
It could just be a coincidence, but Orlando reeled off 10 straight points after subbing Anderson in for Lewis, a run Anderson capped with a three-pointer to bring Orlando to within 5 with just over 3 minutes to play.
Orlando's impressive late rally came up short, and unsurprisingly so. Van Gundy expressed astonishment that his team was even within "shouting distance," the way that it had played, and so was everyone else who was watching. Elite teams do not have to rely on making late scoring runs in order to win games: they bury opponents early, quell the inevitable run or two that the opponent will make, and call it a night. Van Gundy put Barnes in the starting lineup hoping that he'd be the spark. And while Barnes has played well since returning to the starting 5, his presence hasn't been enough to reverse the trend of Orlando playing from behind. Tonight was the 8th time in their last 11 games the the Magic trailed at halftime.
With 5:38 to play in the opening half, Anderson sank 2 free throws to give Orlando a 45-37 lead. The Magic weren't dominating the Bulls by any means, but they were playing reasonably well and showed no signs of coughing the lead up. Chicago proceeded to go on a 15-3 run to end the half, scoring its final 9 points to take a 52-48 lead, not to mention momentum, into the locker room.
So how'd it fall apart so quickly tonight? Far too many one-and-done possessions. Orlando missed its final 8 shots, committed 2 urnovers, and only converted 3 foul shots in 6 tries. The Bulls, meanwhile, shot 7-of-12 to close the half. Gibson quietly cleaned up Chicago's few errors in this stretch, tipping in his own miss and, on the next possession, shoveling an offensive rebound to Luol Deng for a dunk.
Maybe that prolonged cold streak in the 2nd period wouldn't have been so bad if it didn't carry over into the 3rd. Chicago opened on an 11-2 run, while Orlando came up empty on 6 of its first 7 possessions: 5 missed jumpers, 2 turnovers (1 after the Magic's only offensive rebound of the sequence), and 2 missed free throws from Dwight Howard. By that point, Chicago had taken a commanding 13-point lead, and it was clear that Orlando would have to start making shots quickly in order to make a comeback.
It may appear as though Rose was the player who really did the Magic in, with his 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists. Thing is, I'm not sure if that's necessarily true, because the Magic couldn't have defended him much better. They fouled him too much, yes, but they also forced him to take 16 of his 23 shots from 10 feet out to the 3-point line. This season, Rose is a 38.3% shooter outside of 10 feet. Tonight, that's where he did most of his damage, shooting 7-of-16 from 10 feet and beyond. They forced a mediocre jump-shooter to take a ton of jump-shots. The problem was that he converted. I'm fully prepared for readers to rip into Magic point guard Jameer Nelson in the comments, after allowing Rose to outscore him 30-10. And Van Gundy said one of the issues his team needs to address is that opposing point guards tend to have big scoring nights against Orlando. I'm not sure what else Nelson and his backup, Jason Williams, were supposed to do with Rose tonight, though. He sagged off him a bit, especially in transition, in order to prevent him from driving the ball. So Rose just pulled-up and drained jumper after jumper. Nelson and the Magic played the percentages, but Rose's performance tonight was the exception to the rule. I maintain that the Magic's poor job of rebounding, and their own poor shooting, had more to do with this loss than Rose's jump shot.
Among the reasons the Bulls are among the league's least efficient teams is their over-reliance on long two-pointers. They average 30 long two-pointers per game compared to 11 three-point attempts. Tonight, they took 39 long two-pointers compared to only 5 three-pointers. Orlando forced an inefficient offensive team to take even more inefficient shots than usual! The problem was that Chicago earned 7 more foul shots and grabbed one-third of its own misses. Forcing bad shots doesn't do much good if you let those possessions continue.
Another stat that jumps out: Howard's lack of involvement in the offense. The Magic's franchise center had approximately 11 shooting possessions in 33 minutes. Only Rashard Lewis (~10) had fewer shooting possessions among Orlando's starters. This one night after bringing up the rear among Magic starters in shooting possessions. I don't believe Howard is too upset with his lack of touches--if he is, he's awfully quiet about it--but Van Gundy lamented the offense's lack of balance in recent weeks. Orlando launched 37 three-pointers for the second consecutive game. He said most of them were good, open looks that he wants his team to take, but he also said there are times when Magic players will take open threes even if Howard "has his man sealed" under the hoop, in which case he'd rather them make the entry pass and let Howard go to work. I expect Orlando to force-feed Howard the ball Tuesday night in Indianapolis, where the Magic will conclude this three-game road trip.