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Bulls Fri Jan 28 2011

Magic in Town As Bulls Kick Off Tough Stretch

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for chicagobulls.pngThe Bulls have feasted on sub-par opponents for the past two months, winning 22 of their past 28 games despite injuries to Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. But that's about to change.

Even before they hit the road next week -- 11 of their 14 games in February and early March are away from home -- the Bulls have a tough back-to-back at the United Center, starting tonight against fellow Eastern Conference contender Orlando.

Chicago is 21-4 at the United Center this season, but Orlando is one of those four losses. Even worse, the Magic won 107-78. Yet several things have changed since then for both squads, so there's hope that perhaps we shouldn't put too much stock in that one game.

For starters, Orlando made two major trades a week before Christmas, shipping out Mickael Pietrus, Marcin Gortat, Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter and receiving Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark. This is not the same Orlando team that beat the Bulls so handily two months ago -- there's good reason to believe they're better. Arenas hasn't done much, but Richardson and Turkoglu have smoothly transitioned into the offense and are filling their roles as a shooter and distributor, respectively.

This is all by way of saying, of course, that with a better supporting cast, Dwight Howard is even tougher to handle. He leads the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks, and Carlos Boozer and the rest of the Bulls defense will have their hands full trying to stop him.

The Bulls' defense has been their meal ticket lately, winning four of their past five by holding opponents under 85 points per game. They'll have to continue that sort of pressure, as a team like Orlando is one that can quickly break open a game if Chicago has too many defensive lapses. The Bulls haven't scored 100 points in any of their past 12 games (8-4), so they can't get into a shootout.

Carlos Boozer isn't 100 percent yet after his recent ankle injury, but he should be more effective than he was in the teams' previous meeting. It was Boozer's first game of the season because of a broken hand and he contributed only five points and two rebounds.

And there's the minor question of whether newly minted all-star Derrick Rose will even play tonight. He's a game-time decision because of stomach ulcers.

 
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