Cohen Courtside: Magic vs. Bulls (1/6/12)
By Josh Cohen
January 6, 2012
In Cohen Courtside, Josh Cohen examines the state of the Orlando Magic after games this season. He will tackle sidebar storylines and focus on topics that stretch far beyond the box score. There will also be some analysis on league-wide subjects.
ORLANDO -- In this truncated, unyielding 66-game regular season, there aren’t too many opportunities for teams with championship aspirations to daunt their chief challengers.
As a result, Friday’s game for the Orlando Magic against the Chicago Bulls was intended to be a measuring-stick-game of sorts – a chance to flout some critics and augment their own image of themselves.
While it was only the eighth game of the season – following an abridged training camp – the Magic left Amway Center a bit disconsolate after their 14-point defeat.
It wasn’t appalling by any stretch – Orlando showed heart and determination for much of the game and weren’t at all intimidated by one of the East’s favorites.
But it was one of those nights where unsuspecting heroes excelled and misfortune derailed any chance of implausibility in the late stages.
Generally, the Magic contained Chicago’s prime attraction and reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, who finished with 21 points.
However, it was the judicious shooting from Kyle Korver, the relentless team rebounding and rigid defense that propelled the Bulls.
After seven consecutive outstanding performances, Ryan Anderson finally cooled off – scoring just five points on 2-of-10 shooting from the floor.
And a staple of Orlando’s recent success, the bench weren’t in rhythm.
On one hand, you can’t help but feel a little dispirited after the Magic failed to open some unwary eyes with the kind of performance we all know they are capable of delivering.
But on the other hand, Orlando remains in an advantageous position of staying under the radar. In effect, this allows the Magic to be committed to improving without rich expectations from the outside observers.
They may not have won Friday’s game, but sometimes losses keep a team humble. That often can lead to greater accomplishment later on.
Are the Bulls a good team? Absolutely. Are they a very good team? You can argue that.
But are they absolutely, categorically the best team in the league with the label of being the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference? Honestly, I’m not convinced.
Derrick Rose is superb, sometimes unconquerable. Luol Deng is multifaceted, Joakim Noah is a warrior and Carlos Boozer is a bull in the paint.
But my knowledge of NBA history suggests that they are not quite built to be as “dominant” as their record suggests or as unassailable as some believe come playoff time.
They are extremely well coached and are noticeably a “no-excuse” group. Rose has the ability to single-handedly win games for his team. And, as demonstrated in their win over the Magic, are relentless on the glass and clutch when required to be.
After Rose, however, Chicago doesn’t possess another top 25 player in the league. Some would suggest that doesn’t really matter when every player knows their defined role.
But if you investigate NBA history and past champions, it tends to be critical. If you review every NBA champion in league history, every one of those teams had at minimum one top 10 player at the time and another top 25 player – without argument.
I recently wrote a column called The Winning Formula, which details what is required to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. Chicago, undoubtedly, has the main ingredient, which is a top eight player. Rose, naturally, is on that list.
But after the reigning MVP, the Bulls’ talent pool drops considerably.
Don’t get me wrong, Chicago has plenty of good players. Deng, Boozer, Noah, Richard Hamilton, etc. are all high quality players. They are certainly capable of winning the championship. But it's just improper to classify them as in any way invincible or simply head and shoulders above other top teams like the Magic, Celtics or even Knicks if they get hot. The Miami Heat, obviously, remain viewed by many as the only team who stands in their way.
And you could argue that last season, Dirk Nowitzki was the only top 25 player on the Mavericks’ roster and they won the title. I propose, however, that during Dallas’ epic playoff journey, Jason Terry and Tyson Chandler were deserving of being branded as such. Not to mention they had a future Hall of Famer running the show in Jason Kidd.
But unless any of the aforementioned role players on the Bulls can evolve into a top 25 performer, I just don’t know if I can consider Chicago a favorite to capture the title.
It’s certainly possible because Rose is simply that amazing and they are extraordinarily well coached. And maybe Boozer can consistently live up to the massive contract he got last summer and be labeled a top 25 guy.
Only time will tell.
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