(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
That was a win so satisfying to the UC crowd, the cheers drowned out any boos for being 1 point away from a Big Mac.
There's no statement games in January, and I still think the Magic would beat the Bulls in a playoff series (and would likely still think that up to 72 hours after the Bulls had just beaten them in a playoff series). But it was good to see a game against the Magic where the Bulls were able to keep from getting overwhelmed early, and then were able to play their game (instead of catch-up) over a full 4 quarters.
Heck, credit to Keith Bogans for some early offense to keep the otherwise-cold Bulls from seeing that usual script in the 1st quarter. And while Dwight Howard was obviously effective not only early but all game, at least he wasn't getting Kurt Thomas in foul trouble nor forcing the Bulls to double-team much (and credit to Asik for allowing that as well). And the main key was not allowing him to dominate the boards.
From there it was the Bulls being the better-executing offensive team, with each going against a stout defense. The Magic oftentimes would go away from Howard as their perimeter players would try to make plays instead of merely make shots. Not that he didn't obviously have a lot of touches on his way to 40 points, but Howard still could've been more involved at times, and it's the burden of having your best player on the interior in that someone still has to get him the ball. I'd guess losing Jameer Nelson for a majority of the game to injury didn't help that cause either, as Arenas and Turkoglu never seemed to control the offense as well.
Meanwhile, the Bulls did a much better job reacting to the Orlando D, swinging the ball and exploiting matchups where they could, most notably in the 2nd half with Luol Deng scoring 24 points while being guarded by Turkoglu. Derrick Rose missed a lot of close shots tonight (Hoopdata has him at 2-7 at-rim and there were few floaters taken) but he was a consistent threat to pressure the defense, both through penetration and spotting up from 3. Boozer had similar issues scoring early around the basket, but was the high rebounder with 16 in 33 minutes.
I don't think the Magic played their best, shooting under 25% from three. But a lot of that was the Bulls forcing less-than-comfortable looks and the Magic non-Howards looking to create a shot instead of letting Howard do it for them. But this would be the type of game the Bulls would need to win in a potential series. Sure, there would be one or two bloodbaths where the Bulls couldn't stop Howard AND their shooters would be hot, but there just has to be more games where they can avoid that scenario and methodically beat them like they did Friday night. That's definitely possible.