By Dan Bernstein–

We were told the circus clowns had packed up their floppy shoes and red noses, piled themselves into their tiny car and left the United Center.

Seems they stuck around for an encore, this time wearing Bulls uniforms.

A long-held NBA belief is that the first home game after a road trip is really the last road game. Tom Thibodeau’s team gritted out four wins while away, too often needing rallies from double-digit deficits to do so, and one could understand – after the fact, certainly — that they might have been due for a clunker even with the insertion of Carlos Boozer into the starting lineup.

And, boy, this one was bad.

The Magic ran out early by spacing the floor, owning the lane, pushing the tempo and cutting off Derrick Rose’s penetration by switching screens and running bodies at him. Vince Carter and Jameer Nelson were able to go wherever they wanted with the ball, both off screen/roll actions and on the secondary break. Their second-unit players helped crack the game open in a 33-15 second quarter from which the Bulls could not recover.

Every time you thought the inevitable comeback run was igniting, Orlando drained another long, open three or a key defensive stop was wasted by allowing an offensive rebound and a second possession. It was a night of slumped shoulders and rolled eyes, as any positive effort was quickly negated or trumped.

There are no excuses for Joakim Noah, who played 25 minutes and grabbed the same number of rebounds that I did. The 21 total rebounds for the Bulls has to be some kind of record, particularly on a night with a normal number of missed field goal attempts (80)– it’s not as if there weren’t opportunities.

Noah also needs to realize that opponents will do what the Magic did defensively, and he needs to stop bogging down the offense when they sag from him. Too many precious shot-clock seconds were wasted by Noah holding the ball unguarded at the top, deciding what to do. His teammates need to cut, screen and flash, and Noah must know when to look for them, launch his funky shot, or put the ball on the floor, eat up the cushion and attack the rim. Rose can also fight back up to get the ball with enough time to reset the play.

Boozer looked like a guy playing his first game of any kind in months, and I’m not going to fall into the trap of blaming “chemistry,” or the difficulty of incorporating him into a successful operation. His absence or presence had little to do with why the Bulls lost. He’ll be fine.

Practice is set for noon at the Berto Center today, with the team then heading out for a meeting with the Celtics in Boston. Knowing Thibodeau as we already do, this won’t be the most fun workday they have had. He’ll have the attention of players who were reminded how it feels when you get clowned.

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