[Welcome to our new writer Jake! Like Jacob, he was at DRosesAndThorns last season -yfbb]
The Bulls’ Jekyll and Hyde season continues. After losing three straight winnable games, Chicago stomped the Magic 112-80 with an all-around performance. Neither team played much defense to start the game, but the Bulls rode a 12-0 first quarter-ending run to a big win.
Much of the early praise centered around the Bulls’ 3-0 start focused on the improved passing and cutting offensively. After three disappointing losses that saw the team regress back into familiar, isolation-heavy ways, the decisive offense was back in force.
The Bulls scored 37 in the first quarter, led by an aggressive Jimmy Butler forcing his way to the basket and spreading the ball around the floor. Fred Hoiberg subbed Dwyane Wade back into the game for a rare point guard-less lineup with two minutes left in the quarter, leading to a 7-0 run. With Rajon Rondo providing little value on either end of the floor, that’s an experiment I’d like to see more of.
The Bulls never relented the early lead, aided by strong performances from most of the starters. Taj Gibson was a beast on both ends, cleaning the glass for 11 boards and adding 16 points in 28 minutes. He was a team-high +25.
Coming into tonight, the two teams were tops in the NBA at second chance opportunities. Chicago destroyed the rebounding battle 56-39, grabbing 15 offensive boards compared to a paltry six from the Magic. Dominating the paint so thoroughly allowed the Bulls to easily post 112 points while only converting 3/19 from long distance. That’s a more sustainable offensive gameplan than counting on Wade and Butler to drill half their threes.
Butler showed what he can do inside the line tonight, knocking down all ten free throw attempts en route to 20 points in only 31 minutes. He also added seven assists and was an integral part of the constant offensive flow. The Bulls should continue to experiment with Butler as the lead ball-handler; he’s probably the best point guard on the team.
Wade was hot early, knocking down five of his first six shots to help put the game out of reach. He did his damage inside as well, scoring all 16 of his points inside the line. More importantly, Wade was active and engaged defensively, disrupting passing lanes and swiping at big men all night. He blocked two shots after only tallying one previously this season.
The Magic started hot behind some impressive shotmaking, but were totally overmatched by an aggressive and energetic Bulls squad. Nikola Vucevic was absolutely cooking Robin Lopez early, but Orlando couldn’t take advantage as the Bulls had their way in the paint. They got the free throw line 31 times compared to just six for the Magic.
Even in a blowout win, Rajon Rondo once again failed to provide a winning impact. He was just +2 in 22 minutes of a 32 point victory as Rondo continued to mail it in defensively. In the second quarter, DJ Augustin, who we know can do nothing but shoot threes, ditched a casual Rondo twice in a row to can open threes and cut the Bulls lead from 15 to nine.
Offensively, Rondo continually stops the flow of the offense to either pass up an open shot or jack up an ugly one. Hoiberg tweaked his rotations to take Rondo out before Wade tonight and surround him with four shooters on the second unit. This is a smart way to mitigate some of Rondo’s bad habits on offense, but probably won’t work defensively--especially if Hoiberg elects to play Bobby Portis over Cristiano Felicio like he did tonight.
Ultimately, none of that mattered. The Bulls played with purpose tonight, and Orlando was badly overmatched. Enjoy it, they don’t always come this easy.