Wednesday was a happy day for the Chicago Bulls, at least until the final seconds of their game at the Orlando Magic. Ex-MVP Derrick Rose returned to action following six weeks and 20 games on the sidelines following knee surgery, bringing with him new hope for the team’s chances at advancing far in the upcoming postseason. Reaching those goals will take work, but Chicago has seen plenty of injuries and needs to increase some probabilities.
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That optimism remains after Wednesday’s game, but the result communicates just how difficult the Bulls’ road to contention will be. Down 103-101 with the shot clock turned off, Pau Gasol managed to get to the line for two free throws with six seconds left. He hit both, giving the Magic a last chance to win. Victor Oladipo made it look surprisingly easy:
Oladipo had preceded that lay-up with a big go-ahead three-pointer with roughly 90 seconds remaining:
The Bulls turned it over on their final possession, and several deflections and replay reviews later the game ended with the Magic on top 105-103. Orlando has now won two straight games against playoff teams after Saturday’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, so they are entering the offseason with reason to feel good about making the postseason in 2016.
More specific to Wednesday, the Magic spoiled the return of Rose. At the same time, he did not exactly appear essential to the game itself, irrespective of context. Rose played just 19 minutes, in line with pregame expectations, and did not leave the bench in the fourth quarter on his way to nine points on 3-of-9 shooting (1-of-6 from deep), two assists, and four turnovers. He played like what he is — a guy coming back from a long layoff. It seems clear that Rose will need some time to get back to the player he was before this latest knee surgery, let alone his MVP form. Still, plays like this one prove he can make an impact:
It’s not an ideal scenario for the Bulls, but it’s still preferable to where they found themselves just a few days ago. Wednesday’s loss drops their record to 46-32 and creates a tie with the victorious Toronto Raptors, who hold the third-place tiebreaker by virtue of having won the Atlantic Division. While it’s not inconceivable that the Bulls will lose the No. 4 seed to the Washington Wizards, now just a game back, they will still enter the postseason in reasonable shape if Rose plays like his pre-injury self and the rest of the team adjusts to his return accordingly. The problem for the Bulls has been a lack of healthy bodies, and they would seem to be a capable squad at full strength no matter their seed. Contending for a conference title remains the goal, but they have work to do before they can entertain it more seriously.
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