The Orlando Magic's four-game winning streak ended with a wet thud on Friday night as they dropped an 89-81 decision to the Chicago Bulls. Orlando limited All-Star point guard Derrick Rose to a mediocre game (24 points on 8-of-20 shooting, 4 assists, 5 turnovers) and played excellent defense on the Bulls' initial offense, but turned in an embarrassing effort on the glass, allowing Chicago to haul in 17 offensive rebounds in 42 chances. Allowing an opponent to get second and third scoring chances taxes one's defense and, not to overstate the obvious, limits how quickly one can score at the other end. The Magic trailed from the second period on and needed every break they could get to ignite their offense, but didn't hold serve on the defensive glass and, as a result, got burned.
Orlando's own inept halfcourt offense magnified its need for quick, easy scores. The Bulls are, by any measure, among the league's best defensive teams. They take away most of their opponents' first offensive options and do an outstanding job rebounding defensively, principles we saw tonight. The Bulls sagged off Magic power forward Brandon Bass, for example, freeing him for 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting in the first half. He and Dwight Howard, who finished with 20 points on 8-of-8 from the floor, didn't have too much trouble, but Orlando's perimeter players apart from Jason Richardson (16 points, 4-of-7 from three-point range) had a night to forget. Jameer Nelson, Quentin Richardson, J.J. Redick, and Gilbert Arenas combined for 24 points on 10-of-30 shooting.
|Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.
If there's a key for this Magic team to get the best of the Bulls' defense, it starts with Nelson, who's crafty enough to get by Rose on most trips. Getting into the lane and drawing a second defender to the ball is a great way to disrupt what any defense, even a great one like Chicago's, wants to do. Nelson had a subpar game, though, with four turnovers and six assists, and just one of those assists came in the final three periods. Now, assists are context-dependent stats, as they require his teammates to make a basket for them to count. But it didn't appear to me as though Nelson generated many open looks for his teammates, even ones they missed.
Hedo Turkoglu, on whom the Magic rely as their secondary ballhandler, didn't fare any better. He banged his right elbow on the floor during a collision early in the game and was in obvious pain for the rest of the game, flexing it often and grimacing during breaks in play despite wearing a black compression sleeve. Turkoglu missed 4 of his 5 shots and dished 2 assists in 30 minutes. He did not factor into the game.
With all these negatives outlined, you might think the Magic got hammered, but you'd be wrong; they defended fairly well for most of the night, but didn't finish the job by pulling in those crucial defensive rebounds. Even with their poor outside shooting (6-of-23, 26.1 percent) and shoddy ballhandlin (16 turnovers in a slow game), they would have had a chance to win had they simply controlled the glass.
Bulls rookie Omer Asik fouled out in 31 minutes, but also hauled in a game-high 13 rebounds. Jason Richardson and Ryan Anderson, the Magic's second-leading rebounders, had five boards apiece. Asik topped them both himself.
True, the Magic were on the second night of a back-to-back and expended a lot of energy, particularly on the defensive end, in surmounting a 24-point deficit against the Miami Heat Thursday. The Bulls, in contrast, had a day off. I don't think that disparity is nearly enough to excuse a 50-30 rebounding margin.
The Magic have two days off before their next game, but that one will surely draw national attention. Howard picked up his 16th technical foul in this game as he swung his arms to shed the defense of Joakim Noah and Kyle Korver during a dead-ball situation. Should the league not rescind it, Howard will have to sit Monday night, per NBA rules. This outcome will surely cost him votes in the MVP race, in which he's currently a contender.