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Florida trip will put aching Bulls to the test
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Luol Deng

 

Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/10/201 3:28 PM | Updated: 3/10/2010 10:27 PM

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The defense rests

The short-handed Bulls gave up an alarming total of 254 points in the two most recent losses against Utah and Dallas. That's the highest total of points allowed in consecutive games since the pre-Michael Jordan era. Here are the details:

• The Bulls haven't given up this many points in two games since April 9 and 11, 1984, when they lost 136-134 in double overtime at Washington, then were beaten 129-112 by New Jersey at the Stadium. Grand total: 265 points allowed.

• Excluding overtime games, the Bulls' most recent episode was on March 20 and 22, 1983. They lost at Seattle 128-116, then lost at home to Detroit 134-116. Grand total: 262 points allowed.

• The Bulls hadn't surrendered 250 points in consecutive games since Feb. 1 and 3, 1990, a 139-112 loss at Houston and 112-111 defeat at San Antonio. Grand total: 251 points allowed.

• The worst two-game total in this decade happened March 28 and 29, 2003, a 140-89 thumping at Indiana and a 107-92 home loss to Sacramento. General manager Jerry Krause resigned a few days after this ugly weekend. Grand total: 247 points allowed.

Source: Bulls media guide

Bulls game day

Bulls vs. Orlando Magic at Amway Arena, 7 p.m. Thursday

TV: TNT

Radio: WMVP 1000-AM

Update: To tip off a four-game road trip, the Bulls will see Orlando for the first time since center Dwight Howard knocked Derrick Rose out of the Feb. 10 game with a hard foul. Fortunately for the Bulls, the ensuing all-star break gave Rose time to heal, but he had to skip the skills contest because of a hip injury. The Magic (45-20) has won six straight, including Sunday's national TV win over the Lakers. Howard still leads the league in rebounds (13.3) and blocked shots (2.8), while Vince Carter (16.3 ppg) finally has raised his shooting percentage above .400. The Bulls have split a pair of home games with the Magic, while this is their first and only visit to Orlando.

Next: Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena, 6:30 p.m. Friday

The Bulls flew down to Florida on Wednesday in economic recovery mode. Simply put, there's a good chance things will get worse before they get better.

With back-to-back contests looming against Orlando and Miami, followed by four games in five nights next week, the Bulls expect to be without forward Luol Deng for a few days.

Deng, the team's second-leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a right-calf strain during the 132-108 loss to Utah on Tuesday at the United Center, and an MRI confirmed the diagnosis.

He was expected to travel with the team but isn't likely to play in the next two games.

Power forward Taj Gibson, meanwhile, did not practice Wednesday after experiencing a flare-up of plantar fasciitis in his left foot. He's questionable for Thursday's game.

So with center Joakim Noah already out with plantar fasciitis, the Bulls might be asked to snap their five-game losing streak without their top three rebounders against Dwight Howard and the Magic.

"Maybe we'll play small tomorrow, real small," coach Vinny Del Negro joked following Wednesday's practice at the Berto Center. "It's hard to do that when you've got that guy (Howard) in the middle."

One other injury to report: Center Brad Miller skipped practice with a sore left thumb but is expected to be ready for Orlando.

The Bulls' working strategy this week is one man's injury is another's opportunity. Rookie forward James Johnson is likely to get his second start in place of Deng and expressed belief in the power of an all-star.

"We've got Derrick Rose on the team," Johnson said. "He's a great leader, and I don't care who's hurt. He's a competitor and he makes all of us compete harder. We want to help each other win, so no excuses for who's hurt or what kind of stretch we've got.

"We've got an all-star on the team; it's time to put that to the test."

These next two games might be a good chance to test some of the Bulls' new players, starting with Johnson, who has moments when he shows remarkable athleticism. The last time he started, however, he grabbed just 2 rebounds.

"He's got a high skill level," Del Negro said. "We've just got to get his game in a box and understand what we're trying to get done out there and really get after it defensively."

For his part, Johnson is trying to learn what it takes to transfer his skills from college to the NBA. He spent two years at Wake Forest before being chosen with the No. 16 draft pick last June.

"Coming back from all-star weekend, I look at it like that was my freshman year of college," Johnson said. "We played a whole college season before the all-star break, so I'm looking at this half as more of my sophomore year where I'm more comfortable and relaxing, kind of know what I'm doing and figure out what I need to do.

"I'm a rookie and we've got guys who can score the ball and deserve the touches they get. They've been here longer than me. I'm not out there trying to hurry up and be an all-star. My time is going to come."

If Gibson can't play, Hakim Warrick figures to start at power forward. Forward Joe Alexander and guard Acie Law might finally get some playing time.

The Bulls haven't been getting many defensive stops lately, surrendering 100 or more points in eight straight games for the first time in 20 years. The last three opponents have shot better than 50 percent from the field.