Two Eastern Conference powers battle in Orlando Monday night, when the Magic (29-17) host the Chicago Bulls (37-10) at Amway Center.
Derrick Rose will not suit up for Chicago for the fourth-straight time, but the Bulls have won two of their last three in his absence.
Dwight Howard leads the Magic, and is likely to play with more focus now that the NBA trade deadline is in the rear-view mirror. Howard agreed to stay in Orlando for another year in a move that baffled many NBA experts, but delighted the Central Florida fan base.
The Magic will need their star center to come through for them against a Bulls squad that seems determined to gain the best overall record in the East. The Bulls have won three of their last four against Orlando, but the superstar center has had his success against Chicago. Howard has averaged 29.3 points and 14.5 rebounds in his last four games against Chicago.
Howard has also been particularly effective in Orlando's last five games -- shooting nearly 63 percent. He has averaged more steals, and less turnovers, in that span than he has in the regular season. Hard-working Chicago big man Joakim Noah will be called upon to contain Howard, but should receive help from Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson.
Orlando is catching a break with Rose sidelined, but the Bulls have a solid bench to make up for the reigning MVP wearing street clothes. Point guard C. J. Watson has done a serviceable job in Rose's absence, averaging 13.7 points per game in the last three games.
The game tips off at about 8:10 PM ET and can be seen on TNT. It can also be viewed online at http://nbaliveonline.com/streaming/
PREDICTION: Orlando heads into the game as the favorite with the homecourt advantage and with Rose sidelined. Expect the Magic to go to Howard early and often. Chicago will still be competitive, as the bench has proven to be too much for many opponents to handle. But after a tough loss to the Heat on Sunday, the Magic should be fired up against the Bulls, as Ryan Anderson and Hedo Turkoglu should bounce back from poor performances.
PREDICTED SCORE: Orlando over Chicago, 93-88