ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — If the Chicago Bulls are going to make a run at an NBA championship this season, they will need a healthy Derrick Rose to do it.
For now, though, they continue to find a way to beat the top teams in the Eastern Conference without their most indispensable star.
With the reigning MVP out nursing a sore groin for the fourth straight game, Rose’s teammates used a smothering defense and capitalized on a plethora of Orlando Magic turnovers in an 85-59 victory Monday night.
Carlos Boozer picked up the scoring slack with 24 points and 13 rebounds — his third 20-point scoring effort against the Magic this season — and John Lucas added 20 points off the bench in just 21 minutes of action to lead the Bulls.
“The real story honestly is our defense,” said Boozer, whose team has beaten their next three chasers in the Eastern Conference in the past six days. “Our defense was … that was probably one of the best performances we’ve had this season.
“It was fitting because they kicked our butt in Chicago, (and) got a big win. For us to come back and do this … it’s a big win for us.”
The Bulls’ defense was indeed the thing to marvel at Monday, with the 59 points they surrendered setting a new franchise record for fewest regular-season points allowed.
It was also a milestone night for Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau, who became the fastest coach in NBA history to earn 100 career victories. Thibodeau did it in just 130 games, one game faster than Avery Johnson when he set the previous standard in 2006.
“We had a lot a of guys step up,” Thibodeau said. “We caught a break. They played last night in a tough game. We’re fresh, so we had an advantage there and they missed some shots they normally make.”
The Bulls won for the fifth time in six games. They also improved to 3-1 over the past four games playing without Rose, who continued to nurse a sore groin.
Thibodeau gave credit to his “great players” for his coaching record, and they gave it back to him.
“He puts the work in and the time in and it shows,” Lucas said. “He’s still a student of the game of basketball and he’s always learning something. … When you have a coach like that, you’re going to be successful.”
Dwight Howard had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Magic, who had 19 turnovers. Orlando had 11 in the first half, just two in the third quarter, but six more in the final 12 minutes.
The Magic have lost three of their last four since posting a three-game win streak. They’ve also now gone six straight quarters without scoring at least 20 points.
Turnovers were a factor in the Magic’s loss to the Bulls in early January and they again played a huge role Monday as Orlando’s miscues yielded 25 of Chicago’s points. By comparison, the Bulls’ 16 turnovers only led to seven points for the Magic.
Orlando trailed by double-digits for most of the second half, before cutting a 15-point Bulls’ first-half lead to 12 entering the fourth quarter as its early turnover issues began to subside.
The Bulls’ offense was steady down the stretch, though, and Joakim Noah’s three-point play on a two-handed dunk over Glen Davis with 6:54 to play in the game put them up 72-52 to end any comeback hope.
“When you play the way we played tonight, this is a team-wide thing,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “I’ve got to take responsibility.”
Van Gundy said there isn’t one singular issue ailing his team right now.
“I mean, it’s everything,” he said. “I really need to take a look at when we’re playing back-to-back games, and we’re just not creating any shots. Obviously, we played Chicago 11 days ago and we were able to create shots. We played Miami and we were able to create shots. This is clearly not satisfactory.”
As for where the Magic can go from here, Davis said there is still much gelling to do on the court.
“If we want to win we all have to buy in — me, the team, the most important guy all the way to the least important guy,” Davis said. “Consistency (is what’s lacking). Sometimes we get bored with the journey and just play to the level that we need to.
“You saw a team out there playing without their biggest star and did what they needed to do to win. They beat us with no problem. I wish they would have had Derrick Rose, in a sense.”
Notes: Rose missed his 14th game of the season after sitting just six games in his first three NBA seasons combined. He appeared in 81 regular-season games in two of those seasons. His status continues to be day-to-day. … Howard received his ninth technical of the season in the third quarter. … Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said that the focus for the Magic over their final 19 games would be on reducing turnovers and building better defensive habits. “We’re just not building solid habits and making good enough decisions,” he said. “And at the end of the day, you are going to hit the playoffs and you are going to be left with your habits. We’re running out of time. We have 5 1/2 weeks and it’s time.” … The Magic dropped to 7-8 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
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