Streaking Bulls go to Orlando

It’s a darn shame the Miami Heat aren’t on the TNT Thursday night doubleheader – there are only two games on the NBA schedule on Thursday this week – as Miami has been very good to me the past few weeks in covering easily against the Knicks and Blazers.

So let’s roll the dice this week on the Sunshine State’s other team, the Orlando Magic. They make their first and only visit to Chicago on Thursday in what could well be a preview of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Of course, any Magic futures betting depends on what the team will do with Dwight Howard – the NBA trade deadline is a week from Thursday. It’s not inconceivable that on March 15 Howard is a member of these Bulls. Unlikely but not impossible – Chicago can offer a great package of perhaps Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Charlotte’s unprotected future No. 1 pick.

But as of now the Magic have Howard and hold down the No. 3 spot in the East, although the Hawks are right on their tails. Chicago, meanwhile, enters Wednesday’s game at Milwaukee with a two-game lead over Miami (also in action Wednesday) for the East’s top seed.

How the teams enter

Chicago entered Wednesday’s short trip to Milwaukee with the NBA’s longest winning streak at seven straight (6-1 ATS). Chicago got some payback in its previous two games. The 76ers handed the Bulls one of their worst losses of the season back on Feb. 1 in Philly, 98-82. Chicago then handled the Sixers back in the City of Brotherly Love, 96-91, on Sunday behind a season-high 35 points from Derrick Rose.

The Indiana Pacers were the first team to have beaten Chicago at the United Center this season, doing so 95-90 in the Windy City on Jan. 25. Rose remembered hearing the Pacers celebrate afterward like they won a playoff series. And so on Monday, also in Chicago, the Bulls blew out Indiana 92-72 to improve to 15-2 at home (Nets are only other team to beat Bulls there). Rose was somewhat quiet, but Chicago destroyed Indiana on the boards, 60-32.

The Magic conclude a three-game road trip in this one and enter off one of their most inexplicable losses of the season, 100-84 at terrible Charlotte on Tuesday. Orlando led by 20 points in the first half but let the NBA’s worst team go on a 22-1 run to take the lead in the third quarter. Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy, who was sent to the hospital after minor chest pains following Monday’s close win in Toronto, publicly ripped his players after the game – as he should have. Charlotte had lost 21 of its previous 22 games. Howard was played pretty much evenly by Bobcats raw rookie Bismack Biyombo; you can’t tell me that the trade rumors aren’t affecting Howard’s play some nights.

Betting Story Lines

Look for the Bulls to be quite shorthanded in the backcourt, which could mean big minutes for Rose. Both starting shooting guard Richard Hamilton and backup point guard C.J. Watson are expected to be out “a while.” Hamilton hurt his shoulder 90 seconds into that Pacers win and didn’t play Wednesday. Neither did Watson, who missed the Indiana game a left ankle problem. Both are called day-to-day, but if you read between the lines it seems like neither will play the rest of this week. Ronnie Brewer will start for Hamilton. John Lucas III will back up Derrick Rose. Tonight starts a tough six-game homestand for Chicago, highlighted by next Wednesday’s showdown with the Heat — look for a preview of that game here at Doc’s as there is no TNT doubleheader next Thursday because of the NCAA Tournament.

The Magic haven’t been great against the elite teams in the NBA this season, going 1-5 against the four ahead of them in the overall NBA standings: the Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. The one victory, 102-89 over the Heat on Feb. 8 — occurred as Miami completed a back-to-back. Certainly Orlando won’t beat the Bulls with another stinker from Hedo Turkoglu. He has hit just 2-of-16 shots and scored six points over his last two games. And Ryan Anderson, the NBA’s leader in three-pointers attempted and made, is just 3-for-15 from long range the past two games.

In the teams’ first meeting this season, the Bulls won 97-83 in Orlando on Jan. 6 as a one- point dog. Chicago’s Rose, Deng and Carlos Boozer each had at least 20 points to overcome Howard’s 28 points and 15 boards. The Bulls closed the game on a 17-6 run and hung on despite getting just four points from Rose in the final 12 minutes. Chicago had one more three- pointer made (eight) than the three-point addicted Magic did. Last season, the Bulls won three of four meetings but that one loss was a 107-78 blowout at home.

Betting Odds and Key Trends

Chicago opened as a seven-point favorite with the total at 187 on NBA odds. Magic are 21-19 ATS overall and 11-9 on road. The Bulls are 25-15 ATS overall (entering Wednesday) and 9-8 at home. ‘Over/under’ records: ORL 17-21-2, CHI 20-19-1.

The Magic are 1-5 ATS in their past six games overall and have failed to cover in their past four on the road. The Bulls have covered their past five games against teams with winning records. The underdog has covered in the past five meetings between these teams.


Obviously the Magic will be better rested, but it’s not like the Bulls have to travel far to get home after Wednesday’s game. And Chicago is, by my count, 11-2 in the second of back-to-backs this season and has won nine straight (I counted each of the final two games in the Bulls’ lone back- to-back-to-back). I do think Chicago wins but that it will miss Hamilton and Watson on what has been a busy week thus far. So take the Magic, who should play with passion after Van Gundy’s criticisms, and the points.

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