The Chicago Bulls have already clinched the top seed in the East, but that didn’t stop them from playing at full performance Sunday. The Bulls beat Orlando with Derrick Rose leading with 39 points.
In addition to Derrick Rose’s 39 points, he also had five assists and Luol Deng added 15 to help the Chicago Bulls hold off the Orlando Magic 102-99 on Sunday.
Orlando’s Jameer Nelson appeared to tie it with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, but an official review upheld an initial call of no basket. Ryan Anderson led the Magic with a career-high 28 points, Jason Richardson added 24 and Nelson had 17.
Chicago won its seventh in a row and for the 19th time in 21 games. The Bulls also kept alive their chances of finishing with the NBA’s best record, which would give them home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
The Magic’s loss drops their record to 1-3 without center Dwight Howard. He sat out Sunday, serving his second suspension of the season after picking up his 18th technical foul.
A possible second-round playoff preview was spoiled not only by Howard’s absence, but also that of Magic sixth man J.J. Redick and reserve Quentin Richardson. Redick missed his 15th straight game with a lower abdominal strain. Richardson served the first of a two-game suspension for shoving Charlotte’s Gerald Henderson in the face in last week’s win over the Bobcats.
But thanks to hot outside shooting, the Magic didn’t seem to miss a beat without them.
Chicago led just 80-77 entering the fourth quarter, after fighting off several runs by Orlando in the third.
A pair of free throws by Rose trimmed the lead to 94-93, and his dunk off a Magic turnover gave Chicago the lead back again, 95-94, with 2 minutes left.
Chicago led 97-96 when Rose lost the ball out of bounds, turning it over to Orlando with 49.7 seconds remaining. The Magic turned it back over to the Bulls during a loose-ball scramble following a missed shot, and Taj Gibson was fouled with 14.2 seconds left. He hit 1 of 2 at the line, but Chicago was able to chase down the rebound.
The ball found its way into Rose’s hands, and he hit both free-throw attempts to make it 100-96. Richardson finally got a 3 to go in with 2.7 seconds left, but Boozer hit two more free throws to push the lead back to 102-99 with 2 seconds to go and set up Nelson’s final attempt.
A free throw by Gibson with 5:01 to play in the second quarter gave Chicago its largest lead of the half, 44-34. But the Magic responded with a 15-6 run over the final 4:44, including a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Nelson, to trail by just a point at 50-49 entering the third quarter.
Notes: Chicago hit 10 of its first 11 field goal attempts and shot 70 percent in the first quarter. … With Howard out, Anderson made his 14th start of the season. … Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said that while Miami Heat president Pat Riley would get Executive of the Year honors, Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman should win it. “They made a lot of changes and they were below Miami in the standings,” Van Gundy said. “Now they are above Miami in the standings, so how could you not go with those guys?”
Copyright 2011 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.