Bulls-Magic Preview

In their last two games, the surging Orlando Magic posted wins

against one of the league’s best teams and one of the worst.

Their next opponent is playing more like the latter.

The Magic look to win their season-high seventh straight game

Thursday night when they host the slumping Chicago Bulls.

Orlando (45-20) has matched its longest win streak of the

season, giving itself a small cushion over Boston for the second

seed in the Eastern Conference. It still trails first-place

Cleveland by five games.

The Magic beat the Lakers on Sunday in an NBA finals rematch and

followed that victory with a 113-87 rout of the Los Angeles

Clippers on Tuesday.

Orlando led by 26 points at the half and cruised the rest of the

way. Dwight Howard, who finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds,

did most of his damage in the first half, going into the break with

18 points and 11 rebounds.

“I liked the way we approached the game coming off a big win the

other night,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “There was no letdown,

especially in the second half.”

The Magic have a good chance at extending their winning streak

against a Chicago team that has lost five in a row. Orlando hasn’t

won seven straight since Jan. 6-17, 2009.

Improved production from point guard Jameer Nelson has provided

a boost for the Magic, winners of five straight at home. Nelson is

averaging 12.6 points this season, but 16.4 in the last 10 games.

He had 17 points and eight assists Tuesday, shooting 3 of 5 from

3-point range.

Nelson and the Magic will try to take advantage of the Bulls’

defensive struggles. Chicago equaled its longest losing streak of

the season Tuesday with its fifth straight defeat, 132-108 to Utah.

It was the most points the team has allowed this season.

The Bulls are giving up 115.0 points per game during the skid

and their last two opponents have averaged 127.0 points and shot

55.3 percent. All of those losses came without defensive presence

Joakim Noah, who is out with plantar fasciitis.

Howard will look again to dominate inside with Noah sidelined.

He had 18 points and 14 rebounds in 25 minutes of a 107-87 win Feb.

10 with Noah out. In the previous matchup with Noah in the lineup,

Howard was held to nine points and 12 rebounds in a 101-93 loss

Jan. 2.

Thursday continues a difficult stretch for Chicago, which in a

tight battle with five teams for the final four playoff spots in

the East. The Bulls play their next four on the road and their next

five opponents are all playoff contenders.

“It’s the NBA, you can always change things around,” said

Derrick Rose, who had 25 points and 13 assists Wednesday. “Now we

go on the road for two big games. We need them.”

It won’t help, however, if the Bulls don’t have Luol Deng, who

sat out the fourth quarter with a strained right calf. He was

scheduled to undergo an MRI before Thursday’s game.

Deng is second on Chicago, averaging 18.0 points and 7.3

rebounds.

The Bulls, who haven’t lost six straight since Nov. 14-24, 2006,

have lost four in a row in Orlando by an average of 19.3

points.