In a battle between Eastern Conference foes, the Orlando Magic will travel to play the Chicago Bulls. This will mark the third of four games between the Magic and Bulls, with Chicago taking the first two.
The question is: Who will emerge victorious during their third showdown?
Orlando enters this game with a record of 19-57 overall and 8-30 on the road. Although their record displays their inferiority, the Magic have been a far more competitive team since the trade deadline.
Even as the Magic struggle to piece together victories, the addition of players such as Tobias Harris and Beno Udrih has breathed new life into this organization.
The Bulls, meanwhile, rest at 41-33 overall and 21-16 at home. They're currently fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff standings and vying for greater position.
Will the team in need achieve victory? Or will the underdog sneak one out?
Let's find out.
Time: Friday, Apr. 5 at 8:00 p.m. EDT
TV: FSN Florida & CSN Chicago
Records: Orlando Magic (19-57, 8-30 road) at Chicago Bulls (41-33, 21-16 home)
Betting Line: N/A
Orlando Magic Injury Report
Arron Afflalo, Slight Right Hamstring Tear, Out
Glen Davis, Fractured Fifth Metatarsal, Out
Jameer Nelson, Sprained Right Ankle, Questionable
Chicago Bulls Injury Report
Marco Belinelli, Abdominal Strain, Questionable
Taj Gibson, Slight Knee Strain, Questionable
Richard Hamilton, Back Spasms, Doubtful
Joakim Noah, Plantar Fasciitis, Doubtful
Key Storyline: A Test of Depth
Entering this game, the Chicago Bulls are .001 percentage points ahead of the Atlanta Hawks for fifth and trail the Brooklyn Nets for fourth in the Eastern Conference by 1.5 games. They also own a less-than-comfortable edge over the seventh-seeded Boston Celtics.
In other words, the Bulls need to win this game.
With both the Bulls and Orlando Magic battling injuries to key players, we're going to see a test of depth. For Chicago, that means the Bulls could be forced to play without Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Richard Hamilton and Marco Belinelli.
Them and, of course, Derrick Rose.
As for Orlando, the Magic are all but certain to be without Arron Afflalo and Glen Davis. Point guard Jameer Nelson, meanwhile, has yet to return from a sprained right ankle, although he is questionable.
One way or another, we're going to see which role players want to win more than the others.
Key Matchup: Luol Deng vs. Maurice Harkless
Entering this game, the general public is rather unaware of the name "Maurice Harkless." While NBA pundits will tell you that they saw his recent success coming, few can actually say so with a straight face.
It's up to Luol Deng, an All-Star and defensive specialist, to slow Harkless down. It's also on Harkless to be able to overcome Deng's elite on-ball defense.
In other words, this is going to be a battle.
Over the span of his past five games, Harkless is averaging 19.8 points and 6.4 rebounds on 47.4 percent shooting from the floor. For those who believe that this is a fluke string of success, note that Harkless has been doing this for an extended period of time.
He has topped double-digit scoring in 21 of his past 24 games—he's topped 17 points in six of his past seven.
Deng, meanwhile, made his second consecutive All-Star Game appearance earlier this season. He's averaging 22.2 points over his past five games and 16.6 for the season, thus proving to be an elite all-around player.
With that being said, Harkless dropped 25 points on Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 22—don't assume that this is an easy assignment for Deng.
X-Factor: Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic
Slowly but surely, Tobias Harris has gone from a non-factor with the Milwaukee Bucks to a rising star with the Orlando Magic. If you don't believe me and consider that to be hyperbole, simply check the numbers.
Harris is averaging 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.5 blocks and 0.9 steals since debuting for the Magic on Feb. 23.
With this in mind, it's imperative that the Magic receive a quality outing from Harris against the defensive-minded Bulls. With his ability to crash the offensive glass, Harris could be the difference in this game.
With Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson both questionable, that possibility is enhanced.
Harris' recent success suggests that he could thrive, as he's averaging 18.4 points and 9.7 rebounds over his past seven games. With that being said, he's shooting 29.6 percent from the floor over his past three games.
Harris needs to bring his best to win this.
When the Orlando Magic travel to play the Chicago Bulls, there is likely to be the perception that this will be a blowout. Due to factors such as injuries and the rise of Orlando's youth, however, we'll have a close one on our hands.
One that the Magic will be in position to win.
With Tobias Harris crashing the glass and Maurice Harkless slashing to the basket, the Magic will capitalize on their athletic advantage. This will enable Nikola Vucevic to team with Harris as dominant forces on the glass, thus establishing a rebounding advantage.
With Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer on the floor, however, their production will be offset.
The Bulls will limit scoring opportunities for Orlando, even as they come away with offensive rebounds. In turn, they will generate enough production to keep it close until the closing minutes.
It's then that Deng and Nate Robinson will make their mark on this difficult win.
Chicago Bulls 94, Orlando Magic 90
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