[Thanks to wjb1942 for today's game preview -ed.]
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the 57th game of your very own manic depressive Chicago Bulls, a team with dizzyingly rapid highs and lows that alternately cause elation and despair among us, its loyally co-dependent fanbase. After two great, shorthanded wins coming out of the All-Star Break, our Bulls most recently lost to the underwhelming Pacers. True, the Bulls were integrating new players for the first time, and Indiana has a pretty good home record, but expectations were high coming off of the unexpected win over the Denver Nuggets with only 7 1/2 Bulls players available.
Tonight, the Bulls host Superman and his incredible, league-leading crew of 3-point shooters. Games against Orlando have not gone well for the Bulls as of late, with a 1-8 record over the past 3 seasons. Considering the Magic have a "super" solid interior presence and shoot the 3 well, this is hardly surprising - Orlando's strengths have matched up exceptionally well with some of Chicago's weaknesses over the past few seasons. The Magic are currently in 3rd place in the East, and looked to maintain that spot with its trade deadline deal for Raefer Alston to replace the injured Jameer Nelson. Critics have suggested the Magic will regret this move next season when they have a healthy Nelson back, but Alston has proved a worthy replacement for this season so far.
The Bulls, meanwhile, have a somewhat confusing lineup as the team continues to integrate Brad Miller, John Salmons, and Tim Thomas into the lineup in place of Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, and Thabo Sefolosha. The new guys are all upgrades, at least on offense, but it's a fairly good sized turnover of teammates for a midseason adjustment, and if Vinny continues his frequent substitutions it could take a while for guys to find a rhythm together. The new guys played reasonably well in the Pacers game. As for what remains of the former core, Ben had a great game, as he has been having a great season, but is nonetheless once again hearing rumblings that he should be moved back to the bench so a taller and more defensive minded guard can start. Kirk, current holder of the "No Matter What You Do, We Just Don't Want You" Endowed Chair, had an awful game to follow up two really strong ones, and further suffered the hate of a critical mass of Bulls fans after Vinny elected to use him in place of Derrick for part of the fourth quarter. Lu apparently injured his wrist in the first quarter of the game, which may help explain this particular game's lousy free throw shooting, but is certainly doing nothing to challenge the tissue-paper soft label. (He's questionable for tonight as of now.) Tyrus and Joakim were OK, but Derrick had a rough outing; he seems to be in a bit of a mini-slump lately offensively and has been benched several times now for his lack of defense. Tough love? Rookie wall? Tonight starts a stretch of 4 games in 5 nights, so hopefully he snaps out of whatever it is.
This is a big game for the Bulls, as they all are for a team sitting in 9th and hoping to make the playoffs. After last night's Bucks and Nets wins, the Bulls are 1 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot and only 1/2 game ahead of slipping into a tie with New Jersey, who the team actually plays tomorrow night. On the bright side, the Bulls' great recent record has them at 7th in Hollinger's playoff odds. On the not-so-bright side, and just to reiterate, tonight's opponent is the Orlando Magic, they of the 41-14 record, 19-8 road record, and +7.7 margin of victory.
Not surprisingly, everyone and their dog are picking an Orlando win tonight. Accuscore has the Magic winning 64% of its simulations, with 39.6% of those being big wins and an average score of 103.4 to 97.6. CBSSportsline.com's guy went with 105-100. Bulls fan Doug Thonus acknowledged an Orlando win is the expected outcome in his most recent BullsBeat podcast. So let's go get another big, unexpected, mania inducing win, guys - there's plenty of time to lose tomorrow night @ New Jersey.
Check out the Magic's take on the game at Third Quarter Collapse.