It was supposed to be a battle between the league’s top two MVP candidates and a preview of a potential 2nd round playoff match up. While the latter remained true it was a shorthanded Magic minus the services of Dwight Howard, Quentin Richardson (suspensions), and JJ Redick (injury) that took the floor against the top seeded Chicago Bulls on Sunday. Orlando showed that a 2nd round match-up will be no cake walk for Chicago battling the Bulls tooth and nail in a 102-99 loss. The Bulls were led by Derrick Rose who had 39pts on 13-17 from the floor and 10-10 from the free throw line. The Magic were led by the hustle and three point shooting of Ryan Anderson who scored a career high 28 points while grabbing 10 rebounds.
The first quarter’s action was uptempo to say the least. Derrick Rose and the Bulls came out running and took an early 32-24 lead after the end of one. Rose scored 15 in the opening quarter showing Orlando exactly why he is the front runner over Howard for the MVP. Ryan Anderson started in place of Howard and had 10pts and 4rebs to pace the Magic early. As the second quarter opened it was an unfamiliar lineup on the floor for the Magic with Chris Duhon, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkgolu,Earl Clark, and Brandon Bass. The Bulls 2nd unit outplayed that group of Magic strangers and pushed the lead to 11 before the Magic starters came back in to restore order around the 5 minute mark. The Magic started to look inside for baskets and attacked the offensive glass tallying 7 offensive rebounds for 9 total second chance points. Orlando trailed 50-49 after a 3 point prayer heave from Nelson at the 2nd quarter’s buzzer.
The 2nd half was back and forth with the Magic getting production from Jason Richardson, Nelson and Anderson. Even though Derrick Rose was lighting him up, Nelson still managed 17pts, 11ast, and 5rebs. The game was decided in the final seconds after Taj Gibson missed the 2nd of two free throws with 14 seconds remaining and the score 98-96 in favor of Chicago. The miss bounced awkwardly and Ryan Anderson slipped trying to determine which way to jump for the board. Luol Deng grabbed the rebound over the stumbling Anderson and quickly shuffled the ball to Rose who was fouled. Rose buried the two free throws to push the lead to 100-96. After an improbable 3 by Jason Richardson, Carlos Boozer was fouled and made two free throws to give the Bulls a 102-99 lead with 2 seconds remaining. Orlando then ran a play for Nelson who faked Rose high into the air and released what appeared to be a game tying 3 but upon review the shot was released after the buzzer. The Bulls escaped a valiant Magic effort to win their 60th game of the season and stay in contention for the best record in the NBA.
Orlando stayed in the game despite not having Howard and allowing 60% shooting from Chicago. Encouraging news in itself. Van Gundy might have also found an offensive wrinkle in keeping Ryan Anderson on the floor against Noah and Boozer. The Chicago bigs want to stay down low and bang, especially Noah. They have no interest in guarding a 3 point shooting big man like Anderson out on the perimeter. Food for thought should the two meet in the Eastern Conference semi-finals as expected. Orlando continues to play hard despite injuries and suspensions and should continue to do so for the final two games of the regular season. Orlando next plays tomorrow night against the 76ers who will come out blazing as they are still in contention for the 6th seed in the East.
About the Author
Written by Warren Shaw
I am an avid Basketball fan who has worked for the New York Knicks, Alonzo Mourning Charities and various other sports organizations. Having covered many NBA and various professional sporting events has given me the opportunity to provide insight with an unbiased but flavor driven view. I look forward to providing NBA content and interacting with knowledgeable fans and readers. Follow me on Twitter @shawsports or Email your questions to me at Warrenshaw@prosportsblogging.com