Short-handed Bulls take on struggling Magic

Short-handed Bulls take on struggling Magic
April 5, 2013, 10:00 am
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Mark Strotman

After gutting out an impressive come-from-behind win in Brooklyn Thursday, the Bulls face a quick turnaround when they host Nikola Vucevic and the Orlando Magic tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live, and make sure to keep it with us after the game for Bulls Postgame Live.

The 2012-13 season has been the definition of a rebuilding year for Jacque Vaughn and the Orlando Magic. The well-documented saga of Dwight Howard’s discontent with the franchise all but led to the firing of former coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith and his being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers three months later.

As part of a four-team deal (Denver and Philadelphia also were involved), the Magic sent Howard, sixth man Earl Clark and reserve point guard Chris Duhon to the Lakers in exchange for six players and five draft picks over the next five years.

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It was a massive overhaul of a franchise that had appeared in the NBA Finals just two years ago, but the early returns have been promising. Two of those players, center Nikola Vucevic and rookie swingman Moe Harkless, have shown plenty of promise in an otherwise disappointing 19-57 year.

Vucevic ranks third in the NBA in rebounding (11.6 per game) and is one of nine players in the NBA to average a double-double this year. The first-year 7-footer averaged 5.5 points and 4.8 rebounds in his first season with the 76ers, but has thrived in his second season in a starting role.

Harkless, 19, has improved his numbers each month, including averages of 13.1 points and 5.6 rebounds in 16 March contests. With Arron Afflaloout for the year with a hamstring injury, the Magic have given Harkless as much run as possible as the season comes to a close.

As the NBA trade deadline approached, one of the top candidates to be dealt was sharpshooter J.J. Redick. The Bulls had shown some interest in the shooting guard but were salary-cap strapped and had few options, allowing the Milwaukee Bucks to swoop in and nab him.

Like Howard, the move seemed on the surface like another salary-cap dump to continue the overhaul, but again the returns have been impressive in the early going.

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That’s because 20-year-old Tobias Harris has flourished in 21 games since joining Orlando. Stuck on the bench for his one-plus seasons in Milwaukee, he averaged 4.9 points and 2.2 rebounds in 11.5 minutes per game (70 games). Like they did with Harkless, the Magic have unleashed Harris, who has averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in almost 35 minutes per game. The three young pieces--Vucevic, Harkless and Harris--have given Magic fans reason for hope in the near future, but for now the struggles continue.

Vaughn’s group enters the United Center tonight having lost 13 of 15 games and haven’t won away from the Amway Center since March 4, a span of nine games. The Magic are currently in the midst of a five-game road trip, with losses to Atlanta, Houston and San Antonio to start the trip.

The Bulls have taken the first two games of this season’s series, winning by six and three points. Coming off an impressive win in Brooklyn, Tom Thibodeau’s group should be riding high. However, facing a young team playing for nothing but pride doesn’t guarantee a sure-fire win for the short-handed Bulls.

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