Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

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Election Day: Vote Bulls on CSN

There have been a handful of surprises through the first week of the NBA season.

James Harden's offensive explosion in a leading role for the Rockets. The Lakers' 1-3 start combined with Steve Nash's injury. Portland point guard Damian Lillard's early bid for Rookie of the Year honors.

But of the many storylines, there may not be one more surprising than the 2-0 start by the Orlando Magic.

The Bulls (2-1) will try and put a stop to Orlando's hot start to the season when the two teams square off tonight at the United Center at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.

Orlando was the headline of a wild NBA offseason, but for all the wrong reasons. All-Star Center Dwight Howard had demanded a trade and essentially brought about the firing of head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith. Howard was eventually traded to the Lakers, but the best piece the Magic received in return was Arron Afflalo from Denver, as part of a four-team trade. And maybe just as significant, the Magic lost power forward and 2011-'12 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson to free agency.

The Magic were expected to be awful on offense, as Afflalo was the leading scorer from a year ago at 15.2 points per game, with Jameer Nelson (11.9) and Redick (11.6) close behind. They were supposed to struggle defensively, too, after losing Howard, a five-time All Defensive First Team member and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.

But through two games, the Magic have been stellar, averaging 108.5 points and allowing just 91.5 per game.

It's a miniscule sample size, but home wins over Denver and Phoenix, the latter without Nelson, have given the Magic plenty of momentum heading on the road to face the Bulls, who will be looking to rebound from an ugly home loss to the Hornets on Saturday.

The Bulls have been equally as good on defense, allowing just 87.3 points per game. Their focal point will be to stop Glen Davis, who has averaged 25 points through two games. The compact big man has the front court reins following Howard's departure, and has been the go-to scorer for the surprising Magic.

Carlos Boozer will have his hands full, but he should improve on his four-point effort against New Orleans against the pesky yet undersized Davis. Boozer was off to a hot start, posting 18 and 19 points in the Bulls first two wins, and Phoenix's Luis Scola, a similar player in build and skill-set to Boozer, posted 24 points in the loss Sunday. The Bulls are still looking for a consistent scoring option, and Boozer finding his rhythm again should help a Chicago team averaging 96.7 points per game (18th in NBA).

The Magic may be without Nelson, who's currently battling multiple injuries, which will make Orlando's wings vital to their offense. If Nelson can't go, the Magic will start E'Twaun Moore, who played with the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League. In Nelson's absence, Redick and Afflalo have been impressive offensively, meaning Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and Jimmy Butler's defense could go a long way toward the Bulls picking up win No. 3. Hedo Turkoglu broke his hand Sunday and will likely miss a month.

The Bulls have made an effort to get out and run off missed shots, as Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam noted yesterday. That will be a difficult task tonight, as the Magic have allowed just 8.5 transition points per game, the best mark in the NBA. With a generally small lineup, the Magic have gotten back in transition, and their scoring makes it tough on opponents to get fast breaks started. Marco Belinelli finding his shooting stroke against New Orleans (13 points) would add another dimension to the Bulls' break, as will Nate Robinson's continued efficiency (15 assists to 7 turnovers).

New general manager Rob Hennigan took over a gutted roster that contained just one player originally selected in the NBA Lottery, J.J. Redick (No. 11 overall, 2006). That's an unfathomably low number, considering even the lowly Bobcats have six former Lottery picks, but the results have been positive thus far.

But the road is a different story. The Bulls are looking to rebound from an ugly loss and the Magic haven't played away from Orlando this year. With a solid defensive showing, the Bulls will be able to cool the Magic offense and help initiate transition offense.

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

Horace Grant on current state of Bulls: 'No need to panic'

After the Bulls got off to a 3-0 start, it looked like this would be a team that might be able to give LeBron James and the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers a run for their money in the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls proceeded to lose their next three, tempering those optimistic expectations. What those first six games proved is that they're an inconsistent bunch, and it's been a microcosm of their season past the halfway mark.

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Entering Thursday, the Bulls were slotted in as the No. 8 seed in the East with a 21-22 record through 43 games.

Former Bulls forward/center Horace Grant, who was named a special advisor to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf last year, joined SportsTalk Live on Thursday to talk about the team's current state, and why Bulls fans shouldn't panic just yet.

Check out his comments in the video above.

See what else he had to say during his SportsTalk Live appearance and on In The Loop below:

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

Jimmy Butler acknowledges 'huge accomplishment' but stays nonchalant about All-Star starter nod

ATLANTA — Jimmy Butler insisted being a starter in the All-Star Game means next to nothing, but it seems to go against his never-ending battle for credibility and validation as a legit superstar.

Moments after it was revealed he would be an All-Star starter for the first time and make his third overall trip to All-Star weekend, he sang the same nonchalant tune.

"It hasn't changed at all," Butler said on a conference call Thursday evening. "Obviously, it's a huge accomplishment and honor to be named a starter. But it's All-Star weekend. There are going to be a lot of good players there. I guess it's just another name thrown in with some decent players."

The NBA's format for selecting the All-Star starters changed this season, with fans no longer being the sole group that gets to vote for starters. If it was still a fans-only vote, Philadelphia's Joel Embiid would've started in Butler's place.

But with the new formula that allows the media and the players to take part in the vote, the fan vote accounts for just 50 percent of the formula. So Butler joined Cleveland's LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, Milwaukee's Giannis Antekounmpo and Toronto's DeMar DeRozan in the starting five for the Eastern Conference.

Butler's is averaging 24.8 points with 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists, career-highs across the board, and had he not been selected as a starter, the Bulls' 20-21 record would not have prevented coaches from selecting him as a reserve as they had the last two seasons.

[SHOP BULLS: Get a Jimmy Butler jersey right here]

He won't be joined in the starting lineup by Dwyane Wade, who finished second in backcourt voting behind Irving, but cast his vote for his teammate anyway and hopes Wade will be selected as a reserve.

"Of course. He's been a huge part of what we're doing here, and I think he has played extremely well the first part of the season," Butler said. "He got my vote. I will tell you that."

Golden State's Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant will start for the West, along with Houston's James Harden, San Antonio's Kawhi Leonard and New Orleans' Anthony Davis, a Chicago native.

The fun-filled and busy weekend in New Orleans begins Feb. 17, from the league events to the parties to the festivities and then finally the All-Star Game on Sunday night.

Butler likely views it as more of an accomplishment for his team of trainers and confidants then himself.

"It's fun, man. You get to know the other really good players in the league, and you get to know a little bit about them," Butler said. "And the experience that you get to be a part of, whether it be the Jordan party or taking your guys with you everywhere. That's the most fun part for me, my trainers, my brothers, everybody that's behind the scenes helping me gets to experience it too."