There have been a handful of surprises through the first week of the NBA season.
James Harden's offensive explosion in a leading role for the Rockets. The Lakers' 1-3 start combined with Steve Nash's injury. Portland point guard Damian Lillard's early bid for Rookie of the Year honors.
But of the many storylines, there may not be one more surprising than the 2-0 start by the Orlando Magic.
The Bulls (2-1) will try and put a stop to Orlando's hot start to the season when the two teams square off tonight at the United Center at 7 p.m. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago.
Orlando was the headline of a wild NBA offseason, but for all the wrong reasons. All-Star Center Dwight Howard had demanded a trade and essentially brought about the firing of head coach Stan Van Gundy and general manager Otis Smith. Howard was eventually traded to the Lakers, but the best piece the Magic received in return was Arron Afflalo from Denver, as part of a four-team trade. And maybe just as significant, the Magic lost power forward and 2011-'12 Most Improved Player Ryan Anderson to free agency.
The Magic were expected to be awful on offense, as Afflalo was the leading scorer from a year ago at 15.2 points per game, with Jameer Nelson (11.9) and Redick (11.6) close behind. They were supposed to struggle defensively, too, after losing Howard, a five-time All Defensive First Team member and three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
But through two games, the Magic have been stellar, averaging 108.5 points and allowing just 91.5 per game.
It's a miniscule sample size, but home wins over Denver and Phoenix, the latter without Nelson, have given the Magic plenty of momentum heading on the road to face the Bulls, who will be looking to rebound from an ugly home loss to the Hornets on Saturday.
The Bulls have been equally as good on defense, allowing just 87.3 points per game. Their focal point will be to stop Glen Davis, who has averaged 25 points through two games. The compact big man has the front court reins following Howard's departure, and has been the go-to scorer for the surprising Magic.
Carlos Boozer will have his hands full, but he should improve on his four-point effort against New Orleans against the pesky yet undersized Davis. Boozer was off to a hot start, posting 18 and 19 points in the Bulls first two wins, and Phoenix's Luis Scola, a similar player in build and skill-set to Boozer, posted 24 points in the loss Sunday. The Bulls are still looking for a consistent scoring option, and Boozer finding his rhythm again should help a Chicago team averaging 96.7 points per game (18th in NBA).
The Magic may be without Nelson, who's currently battling multiple injuries, which will make Orlando's wings vital to their offense. If Nelson can't go, the Magic will start E'Twaun Moore, who played with the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League. In Nelson's absence, Redick and Afflalo have been impressive offensively, meaning Luol Deng, Richard Hamilton and Jimmy Butler's defense could go a long way toward the Bulls picking up win No. 3. Hedo Turkoglu broke his hand Sunday and will likely miss a month.
The Bulls have made an effort to get out and run off missed shots, as Bulls Insider Aggrey Sam noted yesterday. That will be a difficult task tonight, as the Magic have allowed just 8.5 transition points per game, the best mark in the NBA. With a generally small lineup, the Magic have gotten back in transition, and their scoring makes it tough on opponents to get fast breaks started. Marco Belinelli finding his shooting stroke against New Orleans (13 points) would add another dimension to the Bulls' break, as will Nate Robinson's continued efficiency (15 assists to 7 turnovers).
New general manager Rob Hennigan took over a gutted roster that contained just one player originally selected in the NBA Lottery, J.J. Redick (No. 11 overall, 2006). That's an unfathomably low number, considering even the lowly Bobcats have six former Lottery picks, but the results have been positive thus far.
But the road is a different story. The Bulls are looking to rebound from an ugly loss and the Magic haven't played away from Orlando this year. With a solid defensive showing, the Bulls will be able to cool the Magic offense and help initiate transition offense.