Stan Van Gundy inserted Matt Barnes into the starting lineup to prevent Orlando's slow starts. The Magic got off to a nice start in Chicago and Barnes was a big part of that. The added energy at the beginning did not translate to the middle and Orlando would have to scramble to pull out two wins on the road.
Friday, the Magic found the energy to survive Minnesota's offensive rebounding prowess behind Barnes' 17 points and 11 rebounds and Rashard Lewis' 21 points in a 106-94 win. But Saturday, Barnes was the only consistent offensive option and a late Magic rally could not overcome a lackluster effort for a disappointing 101-93 loss.
Orlando struggled on the glass during this weekend's games. Against Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, that might be expected. Love had eight offensive rebounds and both Jefferson and Love had 10 rebounds each for the Timberwolves. Despite Minnesota's 7-28 record, the team was very close heading into the fourth quarter.
Barnes helped keep Orlando afloat as the team struggled to find its rhythm. That is when Ryan Anderson came alive. Anderson hit three 3-pointers to spark a big Magic run as they opened up the game. Anderson finished with 16 points. The run was enough to give Orlando the margin it needed for the win.
They would not be so lucky in Chicago.
A scrappy Bulls team outhustled and outworked a tired Magic team, taking as much as a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter. Barnes was once again the offensive catalyst as Dwight Howard faced foul trouble and Vince Carter and Lewis struggled from the floor.
Chicago had a 54-48 advantage on the glass and had 16 offensive rebounds, led by rookie Taj Gibson's seven offensive boards. The Magic looked listless on offense throughout the night, helping the Bulls build their lead by shooting 35.9 percent from the floor. Orlando was held without a field goal for the first half of the quarter and watched the gap widen.
Things kept getting worse despite some decent defense from the Magic themselves. The Bulls ended up shooting 42.5 percent and went cold in the fourth quarter, allowing JJ Redick and Jameer Nelson to charge a late fourth quarter comeback when things got desperate. The 15-point deficit was cut to three with about a minute left as Chicago could not find its offense.
Then Derrick Rose happened.
Orlando had a difficult time containing Rose throughout the game as he drove in and wreaked havoc on the team's defense. Rose scored 30 points, dished out seven assists and had six rebounds. He took over at the very end as he forced in a jumper to push the lead to five with about a minute to go, ending Orlando's comeback bid.
In both games, it just felt like the Magic were waiting to flip the switch and overwhelm their sub-.500 opponents. Against the Timberwolves, the switch was flipped and the Magic held on for the win. Against Chicago, it never turned and the effort was just not there to get all the way back.
Howard was in foul trouble in both games, and that, as we know, changes much of Orlando's offense. And Orlando missed a lot of good shots in Saturday's game. So, as Stan Van Gundy noted after the game against the Bulls, there is no reason to panic. Chicago played great defense and played very inspired basketball.
But the image of Barnes' weekend and how he played has stuck with me. Barnes followed up his solid game Friday night with 23 points on Saturday, including five of six from beyond the arc. Barnes averaged 20 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this weekend and was a constant source of energy and hustle.
It was somewhat disappointing not to see the rest of the team match the effort of its newest starter.