In an all-around effort, the Chicago Bulls won their sixth straight game with a 97-83 road victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night. After trailing by eight points just three minutes into the game, coach Tom Thibodeau's team started to impose its will on the offensive end and put the clamps down defensively.
The Magic shot 40 percent from the field and 7-for-20 (35 percent) from three-point range, while the Bulls hit 44.2 percent from the field and outrebounded the home team 46-37.
The Bulls -- without Rip Hamilton, who re-injured his left groin in Wednesday's 99-83 win over the Detroit Pistons -- had three players reach the 20-point plateau. Derrick Rose, sporting a heavily padded black sleeve on his left arm because of his bruised left elbow, had 21 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and two steals in yet another stellar floor game. The 6-foot-3 point guard even added a block. He missed 11-of-18 shots, but scored 12 points in the first quarter to erase the Bulls' early deficit. Luol Deng continued to grind on the court and also scored 21 points to go with five assists and four rebounds. Statistically, Carlos Boozer had his best performance of the young season, posting 20 points, 13 rebounds and a block in almost 37 minutes of action.
Meanwhile, Kyle Korver poured in a season-high 18 points on 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range. Joakim Noah struggled offensively, but grabbed 10 rebounds in 32 minutes. The 6-foot-11 big man managed to stay out of foul trouble, a rarity given the fact that he has had issues against Magic center Dwight Howard in recent years, and did his best to pester the league's best center.
It was a game of runs. The Bulls used a 20-9 stretch that began midway through the second quarter -- in which the Bulls outscored the Magic 27-16 -- to take a 53-43 lead at halftime. Boozer knocked down a 17-foot fadeaway from the left wing to beat the first-half buzzer. Then, the Magic used a 13-5 run in the fourth quarter to cut the Bulls' lead to 80-77 with six minutes and nine seconds to play. But the Bulls answered back with a 17-6 run to close out the contest. Leading 88-80 with under three minutes left, the Bulls went on a crucial 9-0 run that included back-breaking jumpers from Boozer, Korver, a three-pointer, and Taj Gibson -- who had seven points and five rebounds.
Once again, the Bulls showed why so many NBA followers believe the Eastern Conference is a two-headed monster that features Chicago and the Miami Heat. Rose's cast was simply too much, from top to bottom, for Dwight Howard's to handle. While Howard dropped 28 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks, he didn't get much help. Jason Richardson (17 points) and Hedo Turkoglu (12) shot a combined 11-for-25. Thibodeau will have numerous moments throughout the condensed 66-game season where he will praise his team for its resolve, and Friday night was a prime example of the toughness and composure the Bulls are working toward sustaining for 48 minutes each game.
Next, the Bulls, on the second night of a back-to-back, will face the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night at Philips Arena. The Bulls had a stunning 76-74 home win over the Hawks on Tuesday. The Hawks will be playing their third game in three nights.