Chicago Bulls guard Jannero Pargo, left, battles Orlando Magic center Marcin Gortat for the ball during the first quarter of their preseason NBA basketball game Monday.
Go ahead and call this the Eastern Conference finals of preseason.
Heading into Monday's exhibition matchup at the United Center, Orlando was undefeated at 5-0, while the Bulls were 5-1. So what if Boston and Philadelphia were also 5-1. The Bulls could have won the tiebreakers somehow.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy sent Dwight Howard and Vince Carter back onto the floor and the game was on. Or was it?
"I don't think there is such a thing as a big preseason game," Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.
OK, no point getting carried away.
But this was more interesting than most preseason skirmishes. The Bulls led for most of the game, but couldn't hang on down the stretch and suffered a 101-98 loss at the United Center.
"It was a competitive game," said John Salmons, who led the Bulls with 19 points. "This is one of the teams we'll be fighting for a playoff spot. We want to see where we stack up against them."
The Bulls (5-2) had a 3-point advantage with 1:25 left, but lost the lead on a couple baskets by Ryan Anderson, a somewhat obscure 6-foot-10 forward who came from New Jersey in the Carter trade.
Anderson hit a short jumper, then popped free on a screen-and-roll to bury a 3-pointer that made it 94-92 with 39.9 seconds left.
Brad Miller missed a hook shot over Howard on the next trip.
While the Magic knocked down 4 free throws, Hinrich (18 points) drilled a jumper and a 3-pointer to keep the Bulls within 98-97 with 8.5 seconds on the clock.
The Bulls trailed by 3 when the Magic fouled Miller intentionally to prevent a 3-point shot.
Miller made the first free throw, missed the second on purpose and Bulls forward Taj Gibson tied up the rebound, even though he seemed to foul the heck out of Matt Barnes to get the ball.
Gibson and Anderson lined up for a jump ball with 4.4 seconds on the clock, but Orlando got the tip and hung on for the victory. The Magic were unimpressed afterward.
"We can't be like, 'We went undefeated in preseason,' because that doesn't mean anything," said Howard, who had 18 points and 10 rebounds."
"We were awful," Van Gundy added. "In that first half, 12 turnovers and then letting them shoot 50 percent was unacceptable."
Considering all the injuries the Bulls have dealt with, their preseason performance hasn't been half bad.
"I think we're playing hard and we're doing well," forward Luol Deng said. "There is still a lot we're got to work on, but I think that will click."
Derrick Rose missed his sixth straight game with a sore right ankle, but shot around on the court before the game.
Del Negro was asked if it's at all conceivable Rose could miss the Oct. 29 season opener against San Antonio.
"It is in the realm of possibility," Del Negro said. "I don't think he will, but I thought he would be back the other day."
"No way. I'll be playing for sure," Rose said. "The last week or so, it's been getting better. Hopefully tomorrow I'll be jumping right again."
Hinrich is still bothered by a hyperextended elbow he suffered in the London game and Jannero Pargo has a sore back.
Free agent forward Derrick Byars suffered a left knee injury when he slipped while chasing a rebound.