As the 6-5 Bulls meet the 7-6 Orlando Magic tonight at the United Center (7:30 PM CST, CSN Chicago, ESPN Radio 1000), there are a number of interesting matchups, streaks, and miscellaneous statistics to digest. I'll even risk public humiliation and throw in a prediction for tonight's game.
First, though, the matchups:
- Michael Sweetney will have his hands full tonight with stud, second-year man Dwight Howard coming to town. In his short time in the league, Howard has emerged as an inside force, with 10 double-doubles in just 13 games this season. His 12.7 rebounds per game rank second in the NBA. Sweetney began the Bulls' recent road trip like a man possessed, with double-doubles against the Blazers, Sonics, and Lakers; he took a step back, however, in Texas, plagued by foul trouble and an inability to find his offensive rhythm against the Spurs and Rockets. The Bulls need Sweetney to play strong, physical defense against the bulky Howard without racking up too many early fouls. It's a fine line to walk, but Sweetney's play against Howard could be a major factor in tonight's outcome.
- While Steve Francis is not a true point guard, he nevertheless presents a difficult matchup, with excellent quickness and slashing ability and a solid jumpshot. Having cut down on his turnovers this season, Francis poses a big test for Chris Duhon.
- For the first time since the 1996-97 campaign, the Bulls swept the season series with Orlando, 3-0.
- The Bulls bring a three-game winning streak to the United Center, while the Magic have won four in a row, their longest winning streak since March 15-23, 2003.
- The Bulls' back-to-back wins in the Lonestar State were the team's first road wins on consecutive nights since they downed the Pistons and Knicks on April 10th and 11th respectively.
- The last time the Bulls and Magic met, April 15th at the United Center, the Bulls laid it on the visitors 117-77.
- The Magic are allowing 88.1 points per game, tops in the NBA. During their current four-game winning streak, that number is a mere 83.
- The Bulls own a 3-1 home record this season; the Magic sit at 3-2 on the road.
I like the Bulls in a tight, physical game, 94-91.