The Chicago Bulls get another stiff test in the early part of their season when they roll into Orlando to play a Magic team that hasn't yet traded Dwight Howard.
The Magic are 5-2 and have largely decimated teams in their wins, but they lost to their only quality opponent, the Thunder, on opening night. They also lost a road game to the Pistons. Still, the Magic are 4-0 at home, and Dwight Howard can make things difficult for the any team.
Derrick Rose expects to play [per KC Johnson story] but will need to be wary of Dwight Howard who has injured Rose twice by upending him mid flight.
The game itself is yet another early test for the Bulls who've fought through a tough opening schedule. After tonight, the Bulls will have played 6-8 on the road and faced the five likely playoff teams (Lakers, Clippers, Grizzlies, Hawks, and Magic). So far, the Bulls are 4-0 in those games but required considerable luck to get past the Lakers and Hawks.
Keys to the game
Boozer needs to play D or sit on the bench
Who's the Magic's leading scorer? Ryan Anderson. Yes. Stretch PF Ryan Anderson. You have to get your ass out of the paint and put a hand in his face Ryan Anderson. If I had started my breakdown of the game last night and considered Boozer trying to defend Ryan Anderson at the three point line last night I'd probably have had nightmares.
Will Carlos be up to the task? If he's not, Thibodeau needs to sit his ass fast and get Taj Gibson in the game. The Bulls can't hide Boozer on the center either, because that's Dwight Howard and Boozer on Howard would cause instant cardiac arrest for half the Bulls fans in Chicago.
Cover up the three point line
The Magic are going to launch a whole lot of threes, and the Bulls need to be quick on their rotations to avoid allowing uncontested looks. So far, Anderson and Hedo are killing it behind the line, but Richardson and Redick are just as capable of crushing the Bulls from downtown as well.
Hedo doesn't scare me as much as a shooter despite his early success, but any of these players can get ridiculously hot. The Bulls need to focus on stopping the perimeter play and efficient three point scoring more than stopping Howard. The Magic can't go to Howard in the clutch, so even if he puts up 40/20, they'll be helpless in the end game if the perimeter players are cold.
Asik and destroy
I don't know how many centers in the NBA defend Dwight Howard better than Omer Asik, but I'm wagering the number is less than five. The Bulls have leaned heavily on Asik this season so far, and they'll need to do so again. Joakim's a great defender, but his greatness is in playing free safety on the defense.
Watching Joakim, he's constantly rotating to help on any guard penetration and does so much that doesn't show up in the box score to dissuade perimeter drives to the basket. When playing against Miami, that's extraordinarily valuable. Unfortunately, against Orlando, Joakim's pedestrian man to man post defense is on display.
Omer has played some really strong minutes against Howard in the past, he has no fear and plenty of size. If the Bulls win, I expect Omer to be a big part of the reason why.
Looking for some Deng dominance
Hedo Turkoglu is still likely having nightmares of Luol Deng defending him. The guy plays on pure grizzle and veteran savvy, but Deng is too strong fundamentally to get sucked into his tricks and uses his superior size and athleticism to completely beast him.
In three games last season, Turkoglu wqas 5 for 36 against Luol Deng while Deng shot 23 for 40 from the field. The Bulls are going to need to dominate this matchup again to help ease some of the pressure on Derrick Rose.
What can Derrick give the Bulls tonight?
He's expected to play through the elbow bruise, but if the pain throws off his shooting or limits his mobility then who knows what Derrick will give the Bulls tonight. We've seen Rose play enough that he'll play with no fear going up against Dwight Howard, but he'll need to watch himself to make sure he doesn't go down hard again.
If Derrick gives the Bulls an MVP night, they'll be hard to stop.
Will Rip play?
Richard Hamilton re-aggravated his groin injury against the Pistons, so we'll have to see if he's ready to go tonight or not. Having an additional scorer in the game will help tremendously if Rose isn't quite 100%.
There's few games I would ever pick against Chicago, but this one will be tough. They'll still have an excellent chance to win, but they've got a lot to overcome with a banged up Rose, playing on the road, Hamilton potentially out, and CJ Watson still gone. I give them about a 45/55 chance tonight.