Bulls-Magic Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 14, 2013
The Chicago Bulls' undefeated stretch against playoff teams is over. Their winning streak against the Orlando Magic isn't. Chicago will try to win its fifth straight over the Magic - and avoid a season high-tying third straight defeat - on Monday night when it closes out its road schedule. With a chance to move into fifth in the Eastern Conference, the Bulls (43-37) lost 105-93 at Miami on Sunday. Chicago had won four straight over playoff-bound opponents, including a 101-97 victory March 27 that ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak. Chicago holds the tie-breaker over Atlanta, but it's now one game behind the Hawks for the fifth seed. If the Bulls lose Monday and Atlanta defeats Toronto on Tuesday, Chicago will open the playoffs in the sixth position against Indiana, which clinched the No. 3 seed on Sunday. However, a Tom Thibodeau-coached team is only concerned about the next opponent. "I don't want us thinking about the playoffs," said Thibodeau, whose team is 1-4 since a 6-2 stretch. "I want us thinking about the game against the Orlando Magic.'' The Bulls, winners of eight of nine over the Magic (20-60), could have Taj Gibson (left knee) back for the first time in eight games and Joakim Noah (right foot) in the lineup for the second time in 14 games. Richard Hamilton can return following a one-game suspension, but former MVP Derrick Rose's return from an ACL injury is still unknown. The Bulls have won their last five at Orlando - including a 96-94 victory on Jan. 2 - but they've lost 10 of 13 outside Chicago and three in a row overall to teams outside the playoff picture since defeating the Magic 87-86 at home on April 5. Chicago has won its three matchups with Orlando this season by a total of nine points. Another victory would mark the first time the Bulls have swept four regular-season games against the Magic. Other than that, and avoiding the NBA's worst record - they're one game in front of league-worst Charlotte - the Magic don't have much to play for. Orlando, though, wants to finish strong. Tobias Harris and center Nikola Vucevic are doing that, and could be a big test for Bulls forward Carlos Boozer, who is averaging 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds while posting five straight double-doubles. Harris is scoring a team-best 18.6 points per game with 10.9 rebounds over the last seven, while Vucevic is averaging 18.3 points and 15.7 boards during that stretch. Those strong efforts, though, haven't been enough for the Magic to string together just two straight wins. Orlando had a chance to do that for the first time since a season-best four-game run from Dec. 14-19 after Harris and Vucevic combined for 60 points and 39 rebounds in Wednesday's 113-103 overtime victory over Milwaukee, but the Magic were routed 120-88 by Boston on Saturday. "When we get to where we need to be we have to do this to other teams," Harris told the Magic's official website. Orlando, which finishes its season Wednesday at Miami, is 12-28 at home. They Magic will finish with their fewest victories in Orlando since going 11-30 in 2003-04. If Chicago drops three straight for the first time since Nov. 17-21, it will record its first sub.-500 road record since finishing 17-24 in 2009-10.
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