The Bulls had a litany of reasons to take it easy against the Magic on Sunday, but Derrick Rose, who plays every game as though it is his last, scored 39 points in yet another MVP performance that lifted his team to its 60th win of the season.
Rose was at his most dangerous today, with his shot falling early and often. He finished 13-17 from the floor and 10-10 from the line, extending his free throw streak to 29 in a row. But if you're looking for the real reason that the 3rd year point guard has led his team to an unfathomable 60 wins, check out his postgame comments.
"We had them," Rose said. "We should have easily put them away. But we continue to let teams come back. It's going to hurt us if we continue to do this. But we're definitely happy with this win. We've got to learn how to put teams away."
Luol Deng chipped in 15 points, Taj Gibson continued his strong play of late with nine points and 11 rebounds and Carlos Boozer had 12 points, six rebounds and six assists, but had three straight turnovers late in the fourth quarter that nearly sunk the Bulls' chances. It's becoming clear that while Boozer is a key cog on the team, he cannot be counted on to make smart plays when the game is on the line. The Bulls will need his scoring and defensive rebounding in the playoffs, but in crunch time it will be Derrick Rose and Luol Deng as the playmakers with Kyle Korver behind the arc or Ronnie Brewer on the baseline, and Noah and Boozer looking for easy lay-ins or offensive rebounds in the paint.
The Bulls shot 60% from the floor and should have run away from the Magic, who were without MVP candidate Dwight Howard, but Chicago committed 21 turnovers and gave up 16 offensive rebounds, allowing Orlando to hang in the game until the final moments. Magic forward Ryan Anderson had a career-high 28 points and 10 rebounds, and underrated guard Jameer Nelson had 17 points and 11 assists and nearly sent the game to overtime with a last-second three pointer that left his hand just a few ticks too late.
Ultimately though, it was Chicago's precocious point guard who stated simply that the Bulls weren't going to lose while he was on the floor. Whether you think he deserves it or not, Rose's performance against Boston on Thursday and Orlando today should all but clinch the NBA MVP award.
At 60-20, the Bulls remain one game behind the Spurs for the league's best record with two games to go. The goal now is to win while "sharpening all the tools" for the playoffs, as Boozer said after the game.