In a highly anticipated matchup of two of the East's top teams, the Orlando Magic made quick work of the Chicago Bulls, racing to a 24-point halftime lead and winning by a 107-78 final score. The Magic's starting backcourt of Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter shredded the Bulls' perimeter defense all night, scoring 24 and 22 points, respectively, with a series of aggressive, decisive moves to the basket. Carter scored 20 of those in the first half on 7-of-11 shooting before fading in the second, but did his best damage in the paint area, shooting 6-of-7 in the key against the Bulls' overmatched defensive trio of Keith Bogans, Ronnie Brewer, and Kyle Korver. In so doing, he surpassed John Stockton for 37th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Nelson, meanwhile, routinely abused Chicago MVP candidate Derrick Rose with his first step and hesitation dribble. When he couldn't manage to get a shot off, he found his teammates for scores, finishing with 9 assists. In contrast, Rose had 15 points and 4 assists. For one night, at least, Nelson soundly outplayed the former Rookie of the Year.
One could argue that, all factors considered, tonight represents the Magic's finest overall effort of the season. Stan Van Gundy thinks so, saying, "I think it's our best win of the year" in his post-game availability session, noting that the Magic excelled on both ends of the floor against a quality opponent.
Indeed, Orlando dominated in nearly every facet of the game tonight, with rebounding (44-21) the most obvious example. All-Star power forward Carlos Boozer, making his Bulls debut, and starting center Joakim Noah combined for 2 boards in 45 minutes. Taj Gibson and Luol Deng led Chicago with 4 rebounds each, while six Magic players met or exceeded that total. Additionally, the Magic connected on 23 of their 24 free-throw attempts, one of the most accurate high-volume showings in team history.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
The Magic's gameplan offensively was pretty clear: attack the Bulls' perimeter players off the dribble, looking for high-quality shot attempts in the paint. And boy, did they ever execute: Van Gundy said Orlando got into the painted area 29 times in the first half alone. But the Magic, as you might expect of a team leading by 24 points at intermission, came out of the break a bit lethargic and disorganized. They started rushing ill-advised jumpers from the perimeter, moving away from the drive-and-dish or drive-and-get-fouled style that propelled them in the first half. As a result, Chicago trimmed Orlando's lead to 16 on a few occasions. A jumper from Boozer gave the Bulls life at the 6:45 mark of the third quarter, but the Magic drilled three-pointers on two of their next three possessions to take command of the game for good, and sending some fans at United Center home early. The ones who stayed until the final buzzer booed the home team off the floor.
In a lot of ways, this effort is just what Orlando needed. Obviously, you prefer to win big, but this 29-point win more than triples the Magic's victory margin in its four road wins combined. They defeated the Charlotte Bobcats by 3; the Indiana Pacers by 4; and the Washington Wizards and New Jersey Nets by 1 point each. To finally win big on the road is a step forward for this team, I believe, which has struggled at times with its energy and engagement level outside the friendly, lavish confines of Amway Center.
If anything, Chicago ought to be happy it limited Dwight Howard to an inefficient 13 points in 34 minutes; Howard shot just 5-of-12 from the field, with the Bulls' defenders doing an admirable job of swarming him on the catch, making it difficult for him to jump straight up, and with his shoulders square, when attempting a hook shot. Fortunately, Carter and Nelson came through. So did Brandon Bass, who bulldozed his way to 17 points on 5-of-7 shooting. It's hard for me to describe a jump-shooting big like Bass as "bulldozing," but trust me: he did some excellent work inside tonight, getting to the line for seven free-throw attempts against a Bulls frontline that played much smaller than softer than its reputation would suggest possible.
That Orlando limited the Bulls to 78 points on 84 possessions doesn't surprise me too much, though. With Kyle Korver the team's only outside shooting threat, the Magic were free to pack the paint against a very compressed Bulls offense. It's clear that Chicago needs at least one more long-range shooter in order to keep the floor spread against defenses as stout and disciplined as the Magic's. You can see the potential for the Bulls' offense to be something pretty special, as they tallied 21 assists on their 30 field goals, and seven players registering at least two assists. They can move the ball well, but in my view, simply need to get better shots; adding a deep threat will help them with the latter task.
All in all, we might remember this game as one of the Magic's finest efforts of the year, the same way many Magic fans fondly recall Orlando's win over the L.A. Lakers at Staples Center in January 2009, and I mean that. It's very possible we won't see the Magic play this well against an opponent of this caliber for a while. Enjoy it, and hope it signals the start of a better approach to road games for Orlando.
Though the victory ultimately came pretty easily, the Magic had a tough time coming up with subs. J.J. Redick missed the game due to illness, and Mickael Pietrus left after just five minutes due to an upset stomach as well. As a result, Van Gundy had to play backup point guards Chris Duhon and Jason Williams at shooting guard. Quentin Richardson also logged time there, not that it makes much of a difference to the Magic's starting small forward, who likes to say "the wing is the wing." Richardson played 21 straight minutes between the two positions in the second half. Starting power forward Rashard Lewis banged his left knee in the second half and needed to leave the game. He didn't return. I expect we'll hear more about his condition tomorrow or Friday.