Everything Orlando does for the next 6 days is colored by Dwight Howard trade talk.
That includes their 99-94 win over Chicago Thursday night — the Magic are trying to convince Howard that they can be contenders with him in tow if they just make a couple tweaks. Beating the actual contenders from Chicago and snapping their eight-game win streak — even if the Bulls were without Richard Hamilton (shoulder injury) and playing their fourth game in five nights — can be taken as a sign if you want it. Like finding a burn mark on a pancake that vaguely looks like the Virgin Mary can be a sign if you really are desperate for it to be.
I doubt Howard sees it that way. The fact is this game will have little if any impact on Howard, but it may make the Magic lean even more to the idea that they are not going to move Howard before the deadline.
As for the game itself, these are the kinds of outings that will keep Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau up at night but are really just lockout induced — this was the fourth game in five nights for Chicago, who flew in after beating Milwaukee on Thursday. They looked like a team with tired legs.
Orlando started out hot, putting up 37 points on the Bulls in the first quarter and shooting 67 percent well into the second quarter. The Magic hit 7 of 13 in the first half — it is very difficult for any team to defend them when they are knocking down threes. Orlando finished 11-26 (42.3 percent) from three for the game.
Especially when Howard is playing well. And he was. He overpowered the Bulls inside and had 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting for the game.
But the Bulls chipped away at that lead. They got close to Orlando a few times but struggled to get over the hump — a couple turnovers and a couple threes by Jason Richardson sparked a 13-4 run by the Magic to end the third quarter and keep the Magic up by 8 (79-71).
But in the fourth the Bulls finally got there. A Carlos Boozer elbow jumper gave Chicago a 91-89 lead with 2:50 left. But they couldn’t hold it — The Bulls shot 2-for-10 as a team in the final five minutes with Kyle Korver going 0-5 and Derrick Rose going 0-3. (At one point in the fourth quarter they were 0-8 on shots to tie the game or take the lead.) Chalk that up to tired legs on a tough stretch.
The momentum seemed to turn in the fourth when Jameer Nelson threw an impressive ally-oop to Howard. Next trip down for the Magic Rose defended a Nelson drive well but in a scramble for the loose ball Nelson gets it and kicks to a wide-open Ryan Anderson for three. That was pretty much it.
Jason Richardson had 18 for the Magic, Hedo Turkoglu had 13. Carlos Boozer had 26 for Chicago (and shot 2-of-3 in the final five minutes, the one Bull to hit shots) and Rose had 17.
Orlando can try to convince themselves this means something big if they want. It doesn’t. But if they convince themselves it does it can be more fuel on their fire not to trade Howard. It’s hard to view this game through any other lens.