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Bulls 102, Magic 84

The SportsXchange

ORLANDO -- Carlos Boozer had 22 points and Luol Deng 18 as the Chicago Bulls cruised to a 102-84 victory over the hapless Orlando Magic Monday night at Amway Center.

The Bulls, who had lost four of their previous five games, got a spark from the return of center Joakim Noah and forward Taj Gibson, who had been sidelined with injuries.

The Bulls will finish the regular season Wednesday against Washington, still hoping to find their stride before the playoffs begin this weekend.

Tobias Harris led the Magic with 20 points. Center Nik Vucevic had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Maurice Harkless had 16 points.

The Bulls (44-37) were playing their fourth game in five nights, but they had the better energy and dominated after the first quarter.

Marco Belinelli had 14 points of his 16 points in the third period when the Bulls expanded their 12-point halftime lead into 22 points to start the fourth quarter.

The Magic offered little resistance as the Bulls shot 56 percent from the field and made 9 of 17 3-pointers.

Although the Bulls were cruising comfortably in the third -- and the outcome never was in doubt -- volatile back-up Nate Robinson still managed to get his fifth technical foul of the season for chattering too much at the Magic.

The Bulls led 49-37 at intermission, riding a good start for both Boozer and Deng, who combined for 26 points.

Vucevic had his 45th double-double of the season secured in the first half with 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Magic. Orlando led by as many as five points in the second quarter, but the Bulls rallied late in the first half when Kirk Hinrich hit back-to-back 3-pointers.

NOTES: Noah returned to action after missing 12 of the previous 13 games with a right foot injury. Gibson had missed much of the past few weeks with left knee problems. "We just want to see where they're at," coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Both said they were feeling well, so it gives us a chance to move forward." ... Thibodeau, who previously served as an assistant coach for the Celtics, looked visibly distraught when asked about the tragic news coming out of Boston earlier in the day. "It's unfathomable to think something like that could happen," he said. "It's just a terrible day." ... To illustrate how rough this season has been for the Magic, they became the first team in NBA history to lose four home games in a season by 30 points or more. They lost by 39 points to the Brooklyn Nets, 35 to the Toronto Raptors, 32 to the Atlanta Hawks and most recently, 32 to Boston, on Saturday. Since the franchise started playing in 1989, the Magic have lost only five home games by 30 points more. Four were this season. Despite the season-long struggles -- the Magic have the second-worst record in the NBA -- Harris has somehow remained optimistic about the near future. The Magic are expected to be just as young next season. "Our goal (next season) should be nothing less than the playoffs," Harris said. "That's got to be our mindset now."

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