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Bulls vs. Magic game preview, injury report, lineups

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[Thanks to mormonfreeman for today's game preview -yfbb]

For the first time in a while, last night the Bulls were fun to watch. We had actual, legitimate garbage time on the first half of a back-to-back, we had Doug McDermott throwing up 9 points in 4 minutes and potentially staving off a name change to Doug McD-League, and we had efficient Derrick Rose, tenacious Jimmy Butler, and the sight of Kirk Hinrich falling down a well.

And yes, Luol, thanks to Niko and E'twaun, we had dunks.

Winning by 35 was nice, but today the Bulls face the most horrifying scenario a Bulls fan can dream of: a game we should unequivocally win.

The Bulls have been a hot mess, but they're at least treading water around .500 in this span as they search for an identity and a miracle cure for Mike Dunleavy Jr.

If the Bulls are a hot mess, the Magic are the Flaming Cuyahoga of '69. (Read here for full allusion.) They fired Jacque Vaughn on Thursday, finally stating for the world that even "poetry-writing point guard[s] with a grade-point average climbing toward 4" are not necessarily NBA coaches, no matter how many years they spend breathing the same air as Gregg Popovich. Even more dramatically, the Magic canned all of Vaughn's assistants minus the interim coach, so the team is being led by James Borrego and two player-development guys.

The Magic had a ten-game losing streak until Friday, when they took the Lakers to overtime and survived. They are still very much figuring things out.

The Bulls should win. It is never that easy for this team, but they should play well.

Good news

  • The Bulls have some semblance of momentum, as blowing out the Davis-free Pelicans by 30+ meant Thibs could free Bairstow and McDermott (and, more importantly, limit minutes for Butler, Rose, Gasol, and Noah.
  • I'm not even bothering to do a roster comparison, because the Bulls are much, much, much better on paper.
  • The Bulls are 6-6 on the second game of back-to-backs. I thought anecdotally that they were much worse than that.
  • Efficient Derrick Rose showed up in the first half of a game yesterday, and though there were still more threes than I would have liked (every Rose has its thorns, yeah?), it was good to see the driving and kicking action early in a game for once.
  • The Bulls' motion offense showed up in a big way for the first time in a while. Too often, this team dribbles up court, stands around waiting for something to happen, and then forces obvious passes around to stationary players. Yesterday, we had off-ball kicking, some exciting PnR, and a real sense that driving was equally able to end in an assist as a FGA. Good stuff, and we're going to need to see it develop, because the heroball Bulls lifestyle is deeply depressing.
  • Kirk Hinrich has turf toe, so Thibs cannot play him for 30 minutes. Or, according to sources on the plane ride, at all.
  • Though James Borrego is lifetime undefeated in the NBA, he also heavily relied on player feedback in making adjustments. That strategy only tends to work out well if you have smart players that aren't smart enough to actually communicate on the court in real time. We'll see how that develops against teams with real coaches.
  • Tony Snell showed up last night and almost dropped 20 before being sent to the bench SO OTHER PLAYERS COULD PLAY IN GARBAGE TIME. Some upper-level Thibs rotation planning right there.

Bad news

  • Still no MDJ. This does, however, mean that Thibs can't bench Snell, which would be good, until Snell regresses to the mean and gets re-glued to the bench.
  • The Magic are feisty and energetic. Elfrid Payton can't really shoot, but he's good at making defenses move and overplay. The Bulls have been overguarding passes and leaving wide open lanes to the hoops against energy teams; even offensive-energy-god Omer Asik had an unguarded dunk on us recently. If the Bulls lose defensive focus, it could get ugly.
  • The Magic destroyed the Bulls last time around by hitting the midrange jumpers that decent defense was forcing. The odds of getting jumpered to death aren't too high, but it can happen.
  • Vucevic is a match-up problem against anyone but a healthy Jo. Expect Vucevic to tear us up in the first couple minutes when Gasol and Noah are both out there.
  • Jacque Vaughn was an absolute zero as a coach, so there's a real chance Borrego will be better. And the Magic have some youth and talent; they're not going anywhere this year but they could easy be a fringe East playoff team as soon as next year.
  • Against a largely-identical roster last time, Victor Oladipo and Vucevic put up 66. If the Bulls can't adjust, expect those two to put up 50.

Random

  • Did you know Channing Frye and Tobias Harris were cousins? I did not know that.
  • The game is at 5:00 Central, which is super weird.
  • The Bulls have not won a game against a team whose team name does not end in s (like the Magic) in 2015.

The Bulls are comprised of players that are better at basketball than the Magic, but anything is possible. I expect this game to be really close for no good reason at all and for the Magic to go down fighting.

Arbitrary prediction: Bulls win, 105-102.