The Bulls were just better.
They were faster. They played more together. They moved the ball. They pushed and poked. Goaded and baited. Frustrated and flustered.
Orlando had no answers. No solutions. No way to solve the complex problem that is the Chicago Bulls.
Nothing worked and what did work only worked long enough to leave Orlando scratching its head when the team could no longer get things working. Shots were not falling, the ball was not moving.
The Magic was not working. Even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls did a number on the Magic, showing that defense is a much more reliable identity than the 3-point shot. Orlando used to have a defensive identity. The team played pretty good defense most of the night. But most of the night is not enough against one of the best teams in the league. Not when they are still playing at the top of their even without their star player.
The NBA might have to change its Big commercial about the Bulls defense to footage from this game. The Magic failed to score more than 20 points in any quarter of the game and shot a measley 35.3 percent including 4 for 20 from beyond the arc. The Bulls could not pull away until the fourth quarter, but easily won 85-59 at Amway Center on Monday.
This game really was the difference between a team clicking on all cylinders and a team still trying to find the consistency to feel confident in its secondary options.
Dwight Howard had his way inside most of the game, but the ball movement ground to a halt as the Bulls were quicker on rotations and able to recover almost immediately on the Magic’s ball reversals. You need not look further than those shooting numbers or the nine total assists Orlando totaled on the 24 field goal makes.
There is no other way to describe it. This was an embarrassing offensive effort.
But for as bad as it was — and it was bad — Orlando’s defense kept the lead within reach most of the game. Dwight Howard was still exerting his will and changing shots at the basket. Carlos Boozer was the only consistent offensive option, taking it at Ryan Anderson aggressively with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
The defense on Boozer was the biggest complaint most of the night on that end. Orlando had rare lapses, but those lapses were enough with the team struggling to score so much.
What other time has Orlando lost when giving up 12 points in a quarter?
The Magic were stout and forced jump shots and challenged shots at the rim. They forced turnovers and had the opportunity to trim the Bulls’ 15-point halftime lead.
The only thing was that they did not. Orlando had another baffling game fighting turnovers, committing 19 for the game. When you put that on top of the poor ball movement and the inability to get shots consistently, it gave Orlando no chance.
As the problems compounded in the fourth quarter and the team continued to turn the ball over, Chicago finally broke through. One of those seemingly rare defensive lapses overall as the weight of so many missed shots finally broke the defense.
Chicago’s ball movement in the fourth quarter as the interior passes finally broke everything down and sent Orlando packing, hoping for a chance that would never come. The Bulls knew where they needed to go offensively and the ball whipped around quickly, ultimately blowing out the Magic as the Magic watched helplessly.
The number of long jumpers were just difficult to continue watching.
Orlando did have stretches of success offensively. Dwight Howard was a rock in the post, scoring 18 points on 8-for-12 shooting. Jameer Nelson had moments too where he was able to attack and get to the basket. This stretch occurred when Orlando cut the lead to single digits in the third quarter. But Chicago tightened the screws and pulled away.
Nelson had only nine points on 4-for-11 shooting and five turnovers to just one assist. Ryan Anderson was the only other player to reach double figures with 10 points, but he shot 4-for-13 to get there. This was a game to forget for everyone.
Chicago lost its first options offensively and continued to grind away without frustration. It would be tough to tell what their first and secondary options were — John Lucas broke the game open with a 9-0 run on his own to end the first quarter and give the Bulls a 10-point lead they seemingly never gave up.
Orlando could not find a secondary way to attack. Howard was the only option. No one else could seemingly come up in a big way.
The inconsistencies continue. Orlando learned another lesson on its way toward the postseason.