If the Bulls are going to return to the playoffs, they need to make the teams that don’t belong know just that. The Eastern Conference is bad now as it’s ever been. And the Orlando Magic proved they’re part of the problem by getting trashed 112-80 Monday at the United Center.
The Magic, led by Nikola Vucevic, bested the initial part of the game in which both teams traded baskets at a rapid pace. They led 22-18 with more than half of the first quarter to play. It even got to 24-22 a little while later. But that was as good as it got for the visitors.
For the rest of the quarter and into the next, the Bulls scored 17 unanswered points. Apparently sensing one dominant blitz wasn’t going to put the Magic away, the Bulls then went on a 23-3 run in the third. The only drama left for the fourth was who would get the Bulls to 100 points, which turned out to be Doug McDermott (11 points) midway through.
Jimmy Butler was the game’s best player for his play, if not his numbers. Take away his game highs of 20 points — 10 of which came from a perfect night at the free throw line, and seven assists — he consistently drove to the hoop and drew fouls, a sign he belongs among the ranks of the best all-around offensive players in the game. His Olympic selection was not in vain by any stretch.
Dwyane Wade and Taj Gibson put up 16 each, though both made their own unique impacts. The former showcased the impressive range that has come to define his first season back home and even got to dunk it a couple of times. The latter camped for rebounds until he had a double-double thanks to 11 rebounds. If he continues hanging out in the low post, he’ll light up any team that doesn’t have the manpower to clog the paint.
A couple of unsung heroes emerged off the bench as well. Isaiah Canaan scored 10 in his latest impression as a backup point guard capable of offensive surges. Bobby Portis, somehow now ahead of Cristiano Felicio in the rotation, made the most of his opportunity, taking after Butler by getting both to the basket and the charity stripe, proving, there’s hope for the second-year forward yet.
Though they played an inferior team, the Bulls let everyone know that, for the moment at least, they won’t let just anybody pull out wins against them as they did with many opponents last year. This is a different team that has given the second variation of Hoiball modest success through the first seven games. Were it not for a 3-for-19 night from beyond the arc, that label might have been bumped up to just plain success. But the important thing is the Bulls are 4-3 and as long as they keep their offense in motion and defense tight, the postseason will be in reach.
The season continues Wednesday on the road against the Atlanta Hawks. Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard will be sure to present problems in the paint, so Gibson and Robin Lopez will need to be ready. This will be the type of game in which Hoiball can prove it’s capable of surviving an opponent which doesn’t allow easy points. But the question is will it?