ORLANDO — They may be one of the NBA’s hottest teams, but the Bulls are two point underdogs heading into tonights showdown with the Orlando Magic. There are a lot of contributing factors to this, but the point spread is a sobering reminder to Chicago that they haven’t won anything yet.
Three things transpired which gave the Magic the Vegas edge tonight. One of those things being the Magic’s stellar comeback last night against the Miami heat in which they overcame a 24 point deficit to beat the Heat. Another factor is Chicago’s loss in Atlanta on Wednesday which was luckily salvaged by the Magic beating the Heat as that sets the Bulls and Heat back to the same distance apart from each other that they were heading into Wednesday. There is however, another, larger factor that is causing the line to lean in Orlando’s favor.
That 107-79 beatdown the Magic delivered to the Bulls on December 1st.
Despite the fact Chicago has beat the Magic since then by a nine point margin, when you get beat as servilely as Chicago did, that sticks with you. That combined with the linger sick feeling of the Bulls 4th quarter meltdown against the Hawks may prove to be a deciding factor in tonight’s game.
Whether it’s a motivating factor or not is yet to be determined.
The game is also massive in terms of the Eastern Conference standings. Heading into Wednesday, the Bulls had a chance to possibly move into first place in the East come Monday. Now, they may find themselves looking up at three other teams as they sit in fourth place. The Heat’s loss last night had both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, the Bulls didn’t lose any ground on Miami. On the other, Orlando gained ground on Chicago moving within striking distance of the Bulls. Should Chicago lose to the Magic tonight, Orlando would be only a game and a half behind Chicago in the East. Orlando is only 3 1/2 games behind Miami at the moment and are gearing up for a run that could see them overtake second place.
Chicago is looking to put the Magic down before they start to run a little too wild.
New Kid On The Block
The Bulls signed former Clipper’s guard Rasual Butler yesterday hoping he can provide the Bulls with much needed support at that position. Current tenant Keith Bogans has proven time and time again that he is not cut out for this Chicago roster and because of that and the lack of depth at the position, the Bulls have been suffering. Bogans defense is passable (barely), but where he starts to become the Bulls Achilles heel is in his offense. Bogans is averaging just 3.9 ppg, sometimes going an enitre game without making a single bucket. At first, fans were frusterated with Bogans but gave him some time to sort out his game.
Now it’s just sad, embarrassing and infuriating.
The addition of Butler, who is averaging 5.0 ppg, will be a much needed change at the position. It’s still unclear whether he will immediately start in place of Bogans or if Butler is the fire under Bogans, waiting in the wings until the Bulls have finally had enough of Bogans.
“I’m a good individual defender, a good team defender,” Butler said. “Shooting the ball is my skill that I bring. That’s the one thing that I’m known for is being able to shoot the ball. A catch-and-shoot guy, one or two dribble pull-up guy. Just a smart, cerebral basketball player. Not going to make too many mistakes. A team player.”
Signing Butler is the first foot out the door for Bogans. His play will determine how quickly the rest of him is shoved out that door.
Either way, Butler is eligible to play tonight against the Magic and he will most likely see a little playing time. Butler won’t eat up all the minutes as the Bulls now have three players in rotation at Bogan’s lineup spot. The time tonight will probably be evenly split between Bogans, Butler and Ronnie Brewer. Brewer is sort of the odd man out here as his position on the team as a role player and second squad guy hasn’t changed. It’s who he will be subbing in for that is still up for grabs.
The Bulls are still reeling from their second half meltdown against the Hawks on Wednesday. The flip-flopper critics have gone back to flop on the Bulls, but that loss may prove to be a motivational spark to get past these next two games. Whenever the chips are down, and despite the third place standing in the East the popular media has the chips as being down, the Bulls find some way to bounce back. Whether it be in a game where they are down, or after a loss, Chicago seems to always find something to spark them.
The Bulls are trying to find that spark heading into a big game against the Magic.
Chicago is heading into tonight’s game against Orlando two point underdogs, but head coach Tom Thibodeau sees no fault in the favoritism towards the Magic.
“They’re a quality team,” said Thibodeau, “and I think a lot of people may be overlooking Orlando. They made a big trade during in the year, and I think at the end they have as much as anybody. They have a dominant center and any time you have a dominant player you’re in business.”
Joakim Noah has been on a hot streak since his return to action, but was frustrated by the loss to the Hawks and the way his team played down the stretch.
“Just embarrassing,” he said. “Sometimes you think you’re playing hard but you’re really not. When you see it on film, there’s no lying in the tape and just disappointing.”
Noah’s hot streak will see another true test tonight as he will be matched up against Orlando’s big man, All-Star center Dwight Howard. Howard has given Noah some trouble in the past and despite Noah’s riding status as an elite NBA center, Howard is still like a school yard bully to Noah. But this time, Joakim Noah is showing up to play hard ball.
“Just try to match his energy,” Noah said of the matchup. “He’s definitely a specimen out there. Just do our best to try and eliminate all his easy baskets around the basket. It’s easier said than done, obviously. But that’s definitely the plan.”