The Chicago Bulls, riding a season high eight game win streak, welcome the Magic to the United Center tonight. With the recent exception of a Monday loss to the Bobcats, the Magic have been cruising along beating up on the scrubs and losing to the quality teams for most of the season. Chicago received a defensive wake up call last night against Milwaukee when they were in danger of losing to the Bucks. So what happens tonight?
It's tough for any team to go on a streak as long as the Bulls have. Typically, things just don't go your way eventually, you run into a hot team, or you simply get complacent. Does Derrick Rose's big shot last night wake them up or increase their arrogance. With Thibodeau in charge, I'm guessing the former.
Dwight Howard used to scare the hell out of me, but quite frankly, Tom Thibodeau seems to have the answer for him and the Magic. Since becoming head coach, the Bulls have gone 4-1, winning the last four.
Run the role players off the three point line
Chicago was lucky last game because Ryan Anderson had a horrific shooting night. The Bulls shouldn't count on that again and, overall, need to make a conscious effort to run guys off the three point line and not allow open shooters, particularly from the corners.
Playing tight defense on the best shooters on the Magic certainly gives Howard the opportunity for a big night, but that's ultimately less dangerous than getting a strong inside out game going. The key guys to be wary of are J.J. Redick and Ryan Anderson. Richardson, Turkoglu, and Nelson will jack up plenty of threes too, but they're less consistent.
If Carlos Boozer gets down into his low defensive stance five feet off of Anderson like he was with Gooden last night he should get a quick hook for Taj. Chasing Anderson out on the three point line might be the scariest matchup for Chicago, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Boozer play limited minutes or to see Thibodeau switch him onto Howard at times and let Noah tag him on the perimeter.
Abuse these guys on offense
Dwight Howard is worthy of a defensive MVP every season, but the rest of this team simply stinks on defense. The Bulls need to focus on keeping their off the ball movement going, so they don't sit around and watch Derrick. If they do that, they'll find plenty of seams to the basket and open jumpers.
The Magic lack athleticism on the perimeter with Redick and Turkoglu and have no one who can check Rose. If Chicago moves off the ball and makes good decisions with their passing then they'll have little trouble finding open looks.
Nelson can't defend Rose, Anderson can't defend boozer, and Turkoglu can't defend Deng. The Bulls key offensive players all have very favorable matchups on offense tonight.
Can Noah deliver against Dwight?
Joakim Noah has been on a tear, but can he continue it against the best center in the NBA? Does he still get the tip ins? Does he find any offense of his own? Can he slow Howard without a double team?
I won't hold it against him if the answer is no. Dwight's an unstoppable beast, and the Bulls, as a team, should beat the Magic from other areas.
However, they do need Noah to make it challenging for Howard. They need him to charge the offensive glass if Dwight rotates to help, they need him to make him work hard on offense, and they need him to focus on boxing out on defense. Noah may not be in for a great statistical night, but if he makes Dwight work hard for what he gets then Noah will have done his job.
Asik and destroy?
Omer hasn't played all that well recently, but this is the type of game they'll need extra help from him in. He's shown no fear in bodying up Howard in the past, and it's likely that the Bulls center duo will see plenty of foul trouble tonight. I expect Omer to play 15+ minutes tonight rather his typical 10.
Much like Noah, his job is to harass Howard and make his life difficult while in single coverage rather than to try and dominate the game. He's managed the task in the past, and I think this could be an excellent confidence booster for him if he can have some success.
Great teams are more likely to lose to good teams than lousy ones. As such, this is a game the Bulls certainly could drop. That said, they're the better team, the more focused team, and they're playing at home.
They are coming off a back to back, but they got a wake up call yesterday in terms of effort which will probably serve them well for tonight's game.