ORLANDO Dwight Howard might be feeling a little buyer’s remorse today.
Beating the Miami Heat and the Chicago Bulls within the last two weeks helped convince him to postpone his free agency and stay with the Orlando Magic for at least another season.
Losing to the same two teams the two best in the Eastern Conference in the last two days, just showed how far away his team really is from being a contender.
They don’t make binoculars strong enough to see that far.
If the Magic had played like this last week before he made his final decision — Howard might be playing for the New Jersey Nets or the Los Angeles Lakers today.
The Chicago Bulls, without reigning Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose, smothered the Magic in their own building Monday, 85-59, an embarrassing loss for a team that was crowing about championship aspirations just a week before.
That was when Howard waived his right to become a free agent this summer, pulling the plug on the trade the Magic were about to make on the eve of the trade deadline.
“They just outplayed us at every position, one-through five,” said Howard who managed a pedestrian 18 points and 12 rebounds. “That can’t happen if we want to be a championship team.”
Apparently they don’t, which is why Howard could be second-guessing himself now.
It was the fewest points anyone ever has scored against the Bulls in a regular season game. The night before, the Magic were throttled in Miami when they scored just 81 points, unable to unravel all the scorers they thought they had.
“Our offense was pathetic,” concurred Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. “It’s really two games in a row now, where we’ve been very bad offensively.”
In both games, the Magic were exposed for their lack of overall athleticism compared to the Heat and Bulls. While the Heat and the Bulls were swarming, the Magic were withering under the pressure. It was too many turnovers (19) again.
The Magic (29-18) may have the third best record in the Eastern Conference, but it leaves them a lot closer to the middle than anywhere near the top.
“We’re kidding ourselves if we think we can win like this,” said Magic forward Glen Davis. “We’re not playing the right way. It’s like we’re already bored with the journey. I have a championship ring at the house (from his title he won in Boston). I know what it takes, and we’re not getting it here.”
Davis had five points and seven rebounds. Like everyone else, he couldn’t hit a shot. The Magic shot just 35 percent from the field, 20 percent from the 3-point line and only 38.9 percent from the free throw line.
The confidence they had just a few days before has disappeared. J.J. Redick is in a shooting slump. Ryan Anderson can’t hit a shot, either. Hedo Turkoglu looks like a shell of himself. And point guard Jameer Nelson can’t protect the ball.
“We look like a totally different team now,” Van Gundy said. “When you play the way we played tonight, it’s a team-wide thing. This was bad all the way around.”
The Bulls, meanwhile, looked like they are headed for a second consecutive Eastern Conference final against the Miami Heat, who won the series and reached the NBA Finals last year.
“We want to be a considered a championship caliber team,” said Bulls center Joakim Noah. “And to do that, you have to be championship caliber in everything you do. Our goals are bigger than just the regular season record.”
Without Rose, who is out with a strained groin, the Bulls have won three of four, beating the Heat and the Sixers, and then destroying the Magic.
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau set an NBA coaching record by winning his 100th game, the quickest for anyone in history. It took Thibodeau, who won 62 games last season in Chicago, just 130 games to reach the century mark. He snapped the mark of 131 games by Avery Johnson, who did it with the Dallas Mavericks.
The Bulls without Rose arguably the best player in the league again overcame what they may have lacked offensively with a tenacity and unselfishness they have displayed the last two seasons.
Carlos Boozer had 24 points and 13 rebounds Monday. Reserve point guard John Lucas had 20 points. The Bulls held a 48-38 rebound edge.
“When Derrick comes back, it’s icing on the cake for us,” Noah said. “We’re going to need all our dogs out there when the playoffs get started. And he’s our pit bull. You can’t get too worked up over one regular season game, but we’re feeling pretty good.”