The Orlando Magic aren't good, so even though this was yet another Bulls game where Derrick Rose (and as a special bonus, Joakim Noah as well) didn't play you could figure it'd be a boring, grind-y, win.
And it sort of was! Though the boredom was kept at bay a bit by watching the still-new-and-fresh Bulls deliver, showing the kind of depth that was lacking for most of last season. Though they do lack depth at center, and with Taj Gibson battling foul trouble newcomer/old-man Pau Gasol played over 41 minutes for his 16 points and 13 rebounds.
It was kind of an old-school post-up fest between Gasol and Orlando's Nik Vucevic, and for Gasol to not only hold his own against an aggressive Vucevic but ultimately come out ahead was a win for the Bulls. Vucevic did have 3 more points than Gasol but did so on 9-22 shooting with 6 turnovers.
And it was probably a good thing that the Magic tried to do so many post-ups, as early in the game on a 15-4 run the Bulls defense looked extremely slow. Once again it wasn't until Aaron Brooks, another new Bull, led a bench unit that upped the Bulls pace and output, as the Bulls lineups with Brooks and some shooters allows for a ton of driving lanes. Brooks wound up with 13 points on 11 shots and had some huge makes in the 4th quarter.
The Bulls rookies alternated very entertaining halves too, as Doug McDermott had all 12 of his points in the first half on 4-6 shooting, some of which in a very interesting matchup with fellow '14 draftee Aaron Gordon. It wasn't just a few jumpers, as McDermott even showed solid transition defense, a nice ability to get inside, and even some hops with a 2nd quarter dunk.
In the 4th quarter it was Nikola Mirotic who did his work, as the pump-fake prince of Montenegro had a nice drive-and dish before finally pulling the trigger on two deep three-pointers. It capped off a 12-2 Bulls run to put them up 9 with 6 minutes left, and though the Magic hung in there it was only for about half the remaining time. Their small-ball lineup was giving Bulls problems up until the point where they had to try and put it in the basket, as the diminutive duo of Elfrid Payton and Evan Fournier's shot 8-28 for the game.
Jimmy Butler was once again the Bulls leading scorer and once again had a huge FTA total (11), as he had a nice duel with a fellow-huge wing in Tobias Harris, who matched Butler exactly in both points and shots. Butler re-injured his thumb to some degree at the end of the first half on a block of Harris, and though he stopped flexing it after halftime he was still a bit quieter from the field in the 2nd half in terms of his shooting...of course, while still playing like a madman throughout the game. Harris, for his part, was one of the only non-terrible parts of the 3rd quarter in getting 8 points in that period. The first 6 minutes were abysmal with a combined 4-4 score and a combined 3-22 shooting, as the teams were fairly even in the middle quarters.
Luckily the contributions from the new guys made things a bit interesting, because seeing the Bulls required to play guys old and/or banged up (Taj didn't look great on that ankle after missing a game, though still wound up with a fine night in the box score) to wear down an inexperienced team is a bit too familiar. We kind of know that even a lineup of Brooks/Hinrich/Butler/Gibson/Gasol can beat the dregs of the East. It'll be something to watch for as this was the start of 4 games in 5 nights...though all against the same kind of dregs.