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Bulls don't take defeat very hard
On one hand, the Bulls' 112-110 overtime loss Monday afternoon to the Magic resembled gritty efforts of seasons past, a stark contrast to several blowouts from earlier this season.
On the other, moral victories don't exist in professional sports, particularly when the Bulls have created such a large hole from which to extract themselves.
That's why it was surprising to hear such a positive spin emanating from the Bulls' locker room, which is either an indicator the mood has turned for interim coach Jim Boylan or an indictment of how badly matters had deteriorated between players and Scott Skiles.
Either way, the Bulls dropped to 0-2 in overtime games and capped an 8-8 December by kicking away a winnable game to an elite Eastern Conference team.
Hedo Turkoglu's 13-foot baseline jumper with 0.7 seconds left over Ben Wallace, who had switched onto him following a screen, improved the Magic to 15-5 on the road and capped Orlando's United Center-record 16 overtime points.
With the Bulls out of timeouts, Wallace's 43-foot heave at the buzzer fell as harmlessly to the floor as the postgame confetti to celebrate New Year's Eve.
The Bulls should have been celebrating a victory.
They led 96-94 in regulation and owned the ball out of a timeout, but Dwight Howard stripped Ben Gordon cleanly and fed Jameer Nelson on a breakaway that forced Gordon to foul. Nelson's two free throws with 36.5 seconds left were the last regulation points.
"On that play, it looked like they had a designed trap," Gordon said of Howard's steal. "He made a great athletic play and picked me."
Howard posted his league-leading 29th double-double with 17 points and 22 rebounds.
After Nelson's free throws, Gordon spent the better portion of the 24-second clock dribbling around, á là Ron Mercer 2001, before hoisting a desperation shot over Rashard Lewis that missed badly.
Gordon scored a Bulls-season-high 39 points and has averaged 31.7 points in his three games since moving to the bench. But his performance in overtime, during which he set a United Center record with 10 points, displayed the highs and lows of his game.
He banked home a tough, lean-in jumper past Keith Bogans for a 107-106 lead with 43.2 seconds left in overtime.
After Nelson, who scored 22 off the bench, blew right past Chris Duhon for a layup, Gordon drove on Bogans and forced a wild shot in traffic that drew nothing but air. Bogans' two free throws with 14.1 seconds left pushed the Magic's lead to three.
But then Gordon somehow made a turnaround three-pointer with 8.4 seconds left to tie the game and set up Turkoglu's heroics.
The Bulls' offense down the stretch—give the ball to Gordon and let him create—spotlighted the contrast between his ability to hit unbelievably tough shots and his occasional lapses in judgment or shaky ballhandling.
"It's definitely a balancing act and not an easy one," Boylan said. "But what I've tried to do since I've taken over is give our guys some confidence, let them know I believe in them. Sometimes if mistakes are made, I tell our guys, 'Live in the moment and win the next play.'
"When a bad play happens, it concerns you. But you know another play is coming, so we just move on. I don't want my guys tied up worrying about mistakes. I think it's hurt them. And we're trying to change that."
Losing Kirk Hinrich to fouls with 49.2 seconds left in regulation hurt the Bulls, who resorted to more dribbling and less movement.
"I told the guys to get our tempo back up, start running the floor, crossing underneath," Boylan said. "But I guess a little bit of fatigue stepped in."
Losing winnable games is getting tired as well.