The Orlando Magic (29-17) and Chicago Bulls (37-10) go head-to-head on Monday evening in a matchup of Eastern Conference powerhouses looking to make a strong statement.
With Derrick Rose very iffy to take part in the action and all eyes watching Dwight Howard following his perpetual indecision on his future, everyone watching this game will be looking to see if the Magic can send an emphatic message with a victory over the league's strongest team.
Neither team made a deadline move to shake up the roster. It will be very interesting to see these two teams do battle as each has been constructed with an entirely different philosophy.
The teams have split the two games they've played already this season, so there is reason to believe all players involved in this one will be motivated to come out with a victory that has strong resonance in the standings.
Where: Amway Center, Orlando, Fla.
When: Monday, March 19, 2012, 8 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Listen: ESPN 1000 (Chicago), WDBO 580 (Orlando)
Betting Line: Off, according to Covers.com
PG Derrick Rose (groin)
SG Richard Hamilton (shoulder)
What They're Saying
Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau is proving that his initial success with the Bulls last season was no fluke.
Despite having to play 13 games without Derrick Rose, his team has the best record in the league and it's been a testament to the depth Chicago possesses.
Thibodeau is preparing to go to battle once again without Rose, who sounds extremely unlikely to suit up against Orlando according to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
Tom Thibodeau was asked if there was a chance Derrick Rose will have recovered from an injured groin in time to play against the Magic in Orlando on Monday night.
"I don't know," the Bulls coach said. We'll see."
Thibodeau didn't sound optimistic. It's sounding more and more like Rose will at least sit out the upcoming road trip to Orlando and Toronto.
Most Important Player to Watch: Dwight Howard
Superman is going to have to earn his nickname in this one, as all eyes will be firmly fixated on Dwight Howard.
After waiving his early termination option and putting the trade saga in the rear-view mirror (for this season, anyway), Howard and his teammates can finally focus on basketball rather than the swirling trade rumors that had been clearly impacting the club.
Howard has been really impressive since the All-Star break with averages of 24.3 points, 13.6 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 2.1 blocks on 63.1 percent shooting. He'll look to keep those numbers up against the Bulls on Monday.
In two previous games against Chicago this season, Howard is averaging 28.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 2.5 blocks on 59.5 percent from the floor.
Key Matchup: Carlos Boozer vs. Ryan Anderson
Despite the vast difference in their paychecks, Carlos Boozer (15.4 points, 8.2 rebounds) and Ryan Anderson (15.8 points, 7.8 rebounds) have produced comparable offensive statistics for their respective teams this season.
Anderson has established himself as a big-time contributor from beyond the arc this season (making 2.7 per game on 41 percent). His inclination to be successful from the perimeter will test Boozer's suspect defense regularly when the two are on the floor.
Although Anderson has struggled with his shot in March (32.2 percent from deep), a matchup with Boozer might be exactly what the doctor ordered for him to get back on track.
Bulls 95, Magic 88
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