Denton: Magic-Bulls Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
April 10, 2011


ORLANDO – Staring intently at a courtside replay monitor, Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson saw the cold, hard truth with his own eyes – his potential game-tying 3-point shot from 28 feet left his fingertips just a fraction of a second after time had expired.

``Well,’’ Nelson said after slapping the padded table next to the monitor, ``at least we put the pressure on them.’’

Nelson could have been talking about the referees, who had to rule that the shot that hit nothing but net was no good much to the disappointment of the sellout crowd of 19,181 at the Amway Center. But Nelson could have just as well been referring to the East-leading Chicago Bulls, who survived 102-99 despite the Magic having to play without superstar center Dwight Howard.

``We came out in this game to prove something to ourselves that we could play hard without Dwight,’’ said Nelson, who 17 points, 11 assists and three steals despite the final heave being waived off. ``We played really, really hard. We’re not here for moral victories, but we know we did a lot of good things in this game.’’

The Magic (50-30) didn’t have Howard because of a NBA-mandated one-game suspension for picking up his 18th technical foul. It’s the second time this season that Howard’s been suspended, and the Magic dropped both games at home.

Missing Howard, the heavy favorite to win his third straight Defensive Player of the Year trophy, was evident throughout as the Bulls (60-20) shot 60 percent and scored 40 points in the paint. Derrick Rose, the player expected to finish just ahead of Howard in the race for the Most Valuable Player award, scored 39 points – many of them coming on dazzling drives to the hoop.

And the Magic failed to get a critical rebound off a free throw miss with 14 seconds to play, another area where Howard’s muscle and hustle could have come into play. Taj Gibson’s free throw missed badly and the rebound caromed over Ryan Anderson’s head and into the hands of Luol Deng.

``That was the most awkward bounce off of the rim on a free throw I’ve ever really seen,’’ Anderson said. ``I wasn’t expecting that. Usually that’s something I don’t slip up on, so that’s frustrating – especially when it’s Luol Deng. That’s a guy I could have gotten a rebound over, so that’s frustrating to me.’’

The moment spoiled an otherwise stellar performance from Anderson, who set his career high with 28 points. He made four 3-pointers, hit all six of his free throws and grabbed 10 rebounds. But after the game all he could think about was the one that got away.

Muttered Anderson: ``I’m not a good guy at letting others down.’’

Jason Richardson scored 24 points by making 10 of 14 shots and four of five 3-pointers. His 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left cut a four-point deficit to one and made Nelson’s potential heroics just after the buzzer possible.

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from Sunday’s nationally televised game from the Amway Center:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

  • Starting in place of Howard, Anderson jokingly came to the scorers’ table just before tipoff and in his best Paul Porter voice said, ``Starting at center … Ryyyyyyyaaaaaannnnnnnnn Annnn-derrrrrr-soonnnnnnn! Me at center? C’mon.’’

    Playing a dramatically different style than Howard, Anderson was effective by stretching the Chicago defense all the way out to the 3-point line.

    And when he wasn’t burning the Bulls for four 3-pointers, he was doing the dirty work inside. He grabbed a whopping seven offensive rebounds and repeatedly tried sliding in front of Rose on drives to the hoop.

    Anderson’s play earned rave reviews from Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, who knows a thing or two about defense and rebounding. His Bulls rank No. 1 in the NBA in defense this season.

    ``I think he’s invaluable to them because of the way he shoots the three and the way he hustles on the offensive boards,’’ Thibodeau said of Anderson. ``And his team defense is outstanding. ``He’s always stepping in and trying to take charges. I think he’s one of those guys who makes your team a lot better.’’

  • Despite playing without their Most Valuable Player candidate, the Magic played at a great pace, moved the ball better than they have in weeks and were within one point at halftime. Nelson drilled a running shot from midcourt as the half expired to draw the Magic within 50-49 at the break.

    Chicago started the game by making 11 of its first 13 shots and led by as many as 11 points midway through the second period. But the Magic stayed in the game behind the early shooting from Richardson (11 first-half points) and Anderson (10 first-half points) and the playmaking of Nelson (eight points and seven assists in the first half).

    One of the loudest ovations of the season inside the Amway Center came late in the second period when Richardson followed up a missed shot to tie the game at 46-all. Richardson waved his arms at the crowd for noise and the sellout audience obliged him with a roar.

    WHAT WENT WRONG

  • The Bulls made 36 of 60 shots, buried four 3-pointers and actually shot free throws better (23 of 26) than they have on average this season.

    The Magic had no answer for Rose, who repeatedly got into the lane for shots at point blank range. The superstar point guard made 13 of 17 shots, hit all 10 of his free throws and surprisingly drilled three of five 3-pointers.

    And having to pay so much attention to Rose and needing to double-team Carlos Boozer (12 points) on the low block left the Magic susceptible to layups and dunks from other players.

    ``Our guys played really hard. I’ve got no fault on anybody with that,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``To win that game, we made too many mistakes on the defensive end. We made mistake after mistake after mistake. It makes it tough. I thought we fought hard, but we made too many mistakes.’’

  • Outside of the hot shooting from Anderson and Richardson and Nelson’s playmaking, it wasn’t a good game offensively for a Magic team that made just 43.2 percent of its shots. But Orlando stayed close by getting 16 offensive rebounds which helped it get off 21 more shot attempts than the Bulls.

    Hedo Turkoglu (nine points) made just two of 13 shots and suffered a nasty fall in the third quarter landing on his troublesome right elbow. Brandon Bass (five points) made just two of his 11 tries and had the ball stripped away from him with 32 seconds to play and the Magic trailing 97-96.

    Gilbert Arenas’ 25-point performance from Wednesday in Charlotte didn’t carry over to Sunday. He missed six of his eight shot attempts and scored just five points in 23 minutes.

  • FINAL OBSERVATIONS

  • Much has been made of Rose’s impact and Chicago’s inside muscle with Boozer and Joakim Noah, but Chicago forward Luol Deng has quietly hurt the Magic all season.

    Deng had 15 points on seven of 11 shooting and added five rebounds and five assists. In the three previous Magic-Bulls games this season, Deng has averaged 16.7 points and 6.0 rebounds.

    The Turkoglu-Deng matchup could prove to be one of the deciding factors in the series if the Bulls and Magic ultimately meet in the second round of the playoffs.

  • Veteran power forward Malik Allen, pressed into duty because of the Howard suspension, hit his first shot since Dec. 18 on a short jumper in the lane in the third quarter.

    Chris Duhon, a former Bull point guard, had one of his best stretches in weeks and scored seven points by making all three of his shots. He scored seven points in a row in the fourth quarter to keep the Magic in the game.

  • John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.