The Chicago Bulls signed free agent Rasual Butler on Thursday. With long standing rumors now in the past, the Bulls can focus on trying to catch the Boston Celtics for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Jason Richardson said earlier this week if the Orlando Magic want to be considered contenders, they had to impress during a three-game stretch against other strong teams from the Eastern Conference.
Through two of those games, they’ve managed to do just that despite only playing 48 good minutes.
A pair of furious second-half rallies have the Magic’s winning streak at four heading into Friday night’s visit from the Central Division-leading Bulls, who hope to put a second-half collapse behind them and avoid their sixth straight loss in Orlando.
The Magic (40-22) cruised past Oklahoma City and Charlotte after dropping their first game following the All-Star break, a loss to Sacramento that caused Dwight Howard to question his team’s effort.
That led into a stretch of three games in four nights against New York, Miami and Chicago (41-18) that Orlando knew would be a serious measuring stick.
Richardson said Monday he saw the week as a chance for the Magic to “redeem themselves.” That seems fitting given how the first two games have unfolded. Down 11 at halftime to the Knicks on Tuesday, Orlando scored 69 second-half points en route to a 116-110 win, though that comeback paled in comparison to what happened Thursday.
The Heat led 73-49 with nine minutes left in the third, but the Magic didn’t pack it in. They ended the game on a 50-23 run – sparked by 17 of Richardson’s team-high 24 points – to pull off a 99-96 shocker.
The comeback was the second-largest in franchise history and matched the NBA’s second-biggest turnaround of the season.
“To tell you the truth, I didn’t even know we were down that much,” Orlando guard Jameer Nelson said. “I was just playing. I just think that’s what you have to do when you know you can play better and you’re not playing up to your potential. Just get it going somehow, not worry about the score.”
The Bulls can certainly relate to what the Knicks and Heat went through against Orlando. Chicago led Atlanta 50-33 at halftime Wednesday before falling apart in the final 24 minutes, scoring just 30 points after the break and losing 83-80.
Derrick Rose, who missed 16 of his 21 shots and had six turnovers, accepted the blame.
“I made some careless passes,” Rose said. “The game was definitely on me. … But I guarantee it won’t happen again.”
Rose hasn’t had much shooting success in a pair of home games against the Magic this season. He shot 5 of 13 as Orlando throttled the Bulls 107-78 on Dec. 1, then shot 6 of 21 in the rematch Jan. 28.
He finished with 22 points and 12 assists in that one, though, and Luol Deng scored a team-high 26 to lift Chicago to a 99-90 victory.
Howard had 40 points and 15 rebounds in the loss for the Magic.
The Bulls haven’t visited Orlando since March 11, when they were without Deng and Joakim Noah in a 111-82 loss, their fifth straight in central Florida.
While Rose and Howard are clearly two of the league’s top players, much of the success for the Bulls and Magic hinges on how Deng and Richardson, respectively, perform. Chicago is 23-5 when Deng scores 19 points or more, while Orlando is 18-5 when Richardson contributes at least 11 points.
Carlos Boozer’s 24.6 points per game at Orlando since 2005-06 are his most in any visiting venue, though this is his first trip since joining the Bulls.
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