Despite being short-handed for weeks, the Chicago Bulls have remained in contention for home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
After earning a key win in that race last time out, the Bulls will try to take advantage of a visit from the lowly Orlando Magic on Friday night.
The Bulls had five players inactive Thursday but managed to earn a 92-90 win at Brooklyn that moved them within 1 1/2 games of the fourth-place Nets.
“You got Marco out. Rip out. D-Rose out. Taj out. Guys are just stepping up, man, and that’s what teams do. You got Jo out and (Nazr Mohammed stepping in for him,” guard Nate Robinson said. “These guys are coming in and it’s like old school wrestling. Tag team. You know when one guy goes in, tag him, the other guy go out. Back and forth. We just got to keep playing and keep doing that, we’ll be OK.”
Before the win, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Rose appears to be getting even closer to his return from offseason knee surgery. The 2010-11 league MVP, who has been cleared to play, fully participated in Thursday morning’s shootaround.
Thibodeau also said that Gibson’s knee injury was not as bad as the one that kept him out of 10 straight games earlier this season, and the reserve big man remains day to day.
Next up for the Bulls (41-33) is matchup with the Magic (19-57), losers of 11 of 12.
Orlando couldn’t take advantage of a short-handed San Antonio squad in a 98-84 road defeat Wednesday. The Spurs, who were missing stars Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili took control with a 15-2 run in the fourth quarter.
“We know what we’re capable of but we’re not playing the way we can,” point guard Beno Udrih said. “The first three quarters we (played well) and the last quarter, we made a couple of mistakes. We were not focused enough.”
The Magic have been dealing with injuries of their own, namely to leading scorer Arron Afflalo (hamstring) and point guard Jameer Nelson (ankle). That’s hardly helped Orlando on the road, where it’s dropped nine straight and 23 of 26.
The Magic, who lost 10 in a row on the road Jan. 14-Feb. 22, have dropped 44 of 51 overall. However, they’ve lost their two matchups with the Bulls this season by a combined eight points.
Luol Deng had 15 of his team-best 23 points in the second half in the most recent matchup at the United Center, a 99-93 victory Nov. 6, and Boozer scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to help Chicago hold on for a 96-94 win in Orlando on Jan. 2.
Boozer is averaging 22.6 points in his last five games against the Magic, his best showing versus any East team over the past two seasons.
Chicago has won seven of eight over Orlando.