The Orlando Magic will attempt to win their seventh consecutive game on Thursday night when they host the Chicago Bulls. The Magic are fresh off a blowout victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. Things have not gone as well for the Bulls. They have lost their last five games, with three of them coming by 10 points or more. The Bulls had won eight of their previous 10 games before the five-game losing streak.
The Bulls were busy before the trade deadline. The sent John Salmons and their 2011 and 2012 second round picks to the Milwaukee Bucks in exchange for Joe Alexander and Hakim Warrick. They also sent Tyrus Thomas to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for a future first round pick, Acie Law and Flip Murrary.
These two teams have met twice this season with both meetings coming at the United Center in Chicago. The Bulls won 101-93 back on January 2nd and the Magic avenged that loss with a 107-87 blowout victory on February 10th.
The Bulls have been hit hard by the injury bug. Joakim Noah is out with plantar fasciitis, Jerome James is out after having surgery on his right Achilles, Luol Deng will miss the game with a strained right calf and Taj Gibson is questionable.
The Bulls have fallen to 31-32 and are a game behind Toronto, Charlotte, and Miami who all stand at 32-31 and currently hold the six, seven and eight seeds. The Magic enter the game with a record of 45-20. The Bulls are 12-19 on the road while the Magic are 26-6 at Amway Arena.
Tip-off from the Am is scheduled for 8:00 pm EST and the game will be shown nationally by TNT. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can listen to it locally on WDBO AM 580 and in Spanish on WONQ AM 1030.
The Line: Orlando – 12
The Bulls’ defense has been atrocious lately. They have given up at least 100 points in each of their last eight games. A lot of that can be attributed to the loss of Center Joakim Noah. Noah, who was having the best season of his career, scoring 10.7 points and grabbing 11.4 rebounds per game, before suffering from plantar fasciitis.
Veteran Brad Miller has stepped in for Noah. He sat out Wednesday’s practice with a thumb injury but is expected to start against the Magic.
Magic Center Dwight Howard, who played the first 32 minutes of Tuesday night’s victory over the Los Angeles Clippers without exiting the game, had his way with Clippers Center Chris Kaman and should be able to do much of the same against the Bulls.
Chicago’s defense hasn’t been bad all season- they rank 11th in defensive efficiency and give up 99.5 points per game.
Orlando’s offense ranks sixth in offensive efficien and scores 101.7 points per game.
The Bulls (95.9) play at a higher pace than the Magic (94.9).
If Orlando’s offense is going to maintain their current level of play, they must continue to get good guard play. Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter have played very well since they all-star break and continued that trend on Tuesday night when the two combined for 13 assists and 0 turnovers.
It’s been a struggle for the Bulls on offense this season. They rank 27th in offensive efficiency and score 97.5 points per game.
The Magic, on the other hand, continue to improve on the defensive end. They are now tied with the Boston Celtics for first in defensive efficiency and give up just 95.3 points per game. Orlando is also first in defensive field goal percentage.
When asked about the defensive improvement on Sunday, Jameer Nelson credited it almost entirely to the team’s improved focus.
Offensively, the Bulls are led by All-Star Point Guard Derrick Rose. Rose, last season’s Rookie of the Year, is averaging 20.6 points per game on 48.7% shooting from the field and is dishing out 5.8 assists per game. In Chicago’s win over Orlando, Rose scored 30 points, dished out 7 assists and had 6 rebounds. In their second meeting, Rose was injured in the first two minutes of the game and finished with 3 points. Rose has been at his best as of late. Thursday against the Dallas Mavericks, Rose scored 34 points and dished out 8 assists and on Sunday against the Utah Jazz, he scored 25 points and dished out 13 assists.
Hakim Warrick has also given the Magic some issues in the past. He scored 16 points and grabbed 5 rebounds off the bench against the Magic as a member of the Bucks on November 28th. Flip Murrary has been an inconsistent player and has proven that in three games against Orlando this season, all coming with the Charlotte Bobcats. He had a 31-point performance in Orlando on November 16th but combined for just 9 points in his other two meetings with the Magic.
The Bulls have given the Magic some problems, but they are an inferior team and have been plagued by injuries. The Magic should win their seventh straight game provided they bring the right energy and give the proper effort.
The Magic will be sporting their new “El Magic” shooting shirts and their black, pinstriped hardwood classics jersey.