In a possible Eastern Conference playoff match-up, the red-hot Bulls (33-8) host the Orlando Magic (25-15) at the United Center in Chicago on Thursday night.
The Bulls have won eight in a row, led by reigning MVP Derrick Rose, while Orlando star center Dwight Howard continues to be embroiled in trade speculation, and as the Magic have been inconsistent since the All-Star break.
The game starts at 8:00 pm Eastern time, but the game won't tip off until about 8:10. TNT will televise the game, with the Mavericks and Suns game to follow. The Bulls-Magic game can be watched online at: http://www.livestreamingline.com/
The Magic hosted the Bulls on Jan. 6, and visitors came away with a 97-83 victory, despite Howard's 28 points and 15 rebounds. Orlando will need a better effort this time around after coming off a 16-point loss to the hapless Charlotte Bobcats on Tuesday night.
The big question surrounding Orlando is the fate of Howard. The club appears unwilling to deal their prized star, even though they may lose him to free agency at the end of the season.
Howard means a great deal to the organization, as he leads the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and steals. He is the only 2012 NBA All-Star on the roster, and aside from Jameer Nelson's appearance in 2009, the only Magic player on the squad to ever be an All-Star.
While Howard is the tower the Magic lean on, Rose is the Bulls' glue. The point guard's points per game (22.7) have dipped from last season, but he is shooting a higher percentage (45.6) and is averaging more assists (7.8), while lowering his average turnovers per game (2.8).
Rose has the Bulls owning the best record in the NBA, and they have been dominate at home, with a 15-2 record.
PREDICTION: With a nationally televised audience watching, Rose will likely shine, particularly when he isn't being guarded by Jason Richardson. Howard, who might be in the midst of his last hurrah with Orlando with the Mar. 15 deadline approaching, is coming off a poor scoring night against the Bobcats and will likely take his frustrations out on an under-sized Bulls front court. Joakim Noah only had two fouls in the last meeting with the Magic, and he will likely be more physical against Howard, who is a poor shooter from the free-throw line. This should be a big game for Carlos Boozer, who only played 28 minutes last night in Milwaukee.
PREDICTED SCORE: Bulls over Magic, 94-88.