- Jon Greenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- A harbinger of the night came during the introductions, when Bulls announcer Tommy Edwards started things off with a "6-9 forward from Duke " and Luol Deng came out to slap hands, only to hear Carlos Boozer's name instead.
The Bulls' night pretty much went downhill from there.
Boozer's debut with the Bulls didn't exactly equate to an immediate leap to the top of the Eastern Conference hierarchy.
No, a rusty Boozer (sounds like a drink, doesn't it?) and a flat Bulls team equaled yawn-inducing basketball at the United Center.
In fact, Chicago set a franchise low with 21 rebounds in its lopsided 107-78 loss to the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night.
I bet you thought all the lows were set during the Tim Floyd era, didn't you?
Boozer did show his value as a go-to quote to explain the discrepancy.
"We just didn't get them; they did," he said.
Joakim Noah led the charge with zero rebounds in 25 minutes, 26 seconds. Noah came in averaging 13.2 a game, second-best in the NBA, so you could say this was an aberration. To his credit, he scored 16 points and added four assists, but when Noah goes oh-fer on the boards, you know it's not your night.
"It's frustrating. That's my job, to rebound the basketball, and I wasn't able to do that tonight," a solemn Noah said.
So I guess the lesson is don't start scheduling your summer vacation around the NBA Finals just yet, Bulls fans. Chicago might challenge Orlando, Boston and the Miami Cool, but they didn't do much to build on the enthusiasm off their most successful circus trip since the Jordan era.
How bad was it?
The Hanukkah-themed klezmer band in the main concourse had more rhythm. My menorah had more fire, and it's only the first night.
Maybe the addition of Boozer, playing his first game in a Bulls uniform, gummed things up some, but really this was just a classic NBA letdown game. You know the old saying about "first game back from a long road trip," right? This game will go in that adage's Wikipedia page.
"It's frustrating. We've got a lot to clean up," Noah said. "It just shows we have a long way to go."
The Magic's 44-21 rebounding edge was critical, obviously. Fourteen offensive rebounds helped the Magic get 27 second-chance points. Orlando hit 10 of 21 3-pointers, 23 of 24 free throws and shot 48.7 percent overall.
"They beat us in every facet of the game," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said.
Boozer's return from a broken pinkie finger was the lead story for this game, but no one in their right mind expected him to earn his big free-agent contract in his first game of the season.
He finished with five points and two rebounds in 21-plus minutes.
"That's to be expected," Thibodeau said. "It's his first game back. He did some good things, some not so good. But we liked his energy."
It's good that he's experienced at coming back from long absences. Missing 20 games a year is helpful in that regard, I suppose.
"I didn't feel bad out there," Boozer said. "My legs felt good, my wind felt good. Just didn't do too many good things out there, didn't get too many rebounds, didn't play good enough defense as a team."
The Magic, who won their fifth straight game to improve to 14-4, led by six after one and took control with a 33-15 second quarter. Orlando, coming off a win in Detroit on Tuesday, spaced the floor and seemingly scored at will, shooting 52.6 percent in the first half and outrebounding the Bulls 21-10 to lead 61-37 at the break. Their rebounding edge started early and never wavered.
"The way we started the game led to our own demise," Thibodeau said.
His whistle will might have a demise at practice Thursday after watching that effort.
This game was a major downer because the Bulls (9-7) were the most entertaining late-night show on TV the past two weeks during their 4-3 West Coast swing.
But the gritty play that helped them come back from large deficits in seemingly every game out West was absent in their return to Chicago. Maybe it will return when they go to Boston on Friday. It certainly can't get worse.
Interestingly enough, Dwight Howard was actually kept in check statistically in the first half, with six points and three rebounds -- he still played hellacious defense -- but Vince Carter scored 20 and Jameer Nelson 14. The Bulls' guards were constantly a step behind as the Magic guards navigated through screens set by their big men.
"Both guys played extremely well for them," Thibodeau said of Carter and Nelson.
Nelson led everyone with 24 points and nine assists, while Howard finished with13 points and 12 rebounds. Carter had 22.
Chicago shot 42.3 percent and was so inefficient offensively I think my press-row neighbor John Hollinger's computer produced more smoke than John Paxson's ears.
Derrick Rose didn't have much pop, scoring 15 points on 5-for-13 shooting. Taj Gibson added 10 off the bench. It's safe to say there's no reason to call anyone outside of Rose a "shooting guard." The absence of a true backcourt partner for Rose remains the team's biggest flaw.
"Offensively, we had low energy, we played without pace, so we weren't getting easy scoring opportunities," Thibodeau said. "And we weren't making quick decisions."
Otherwise, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?
In a league in which everyone makes a run, the Bulls made a brief one to start the second half, but it didn't take, leading to an early exodus. It looked like a Miami crowd.
The lowlight of the fourth quarter was when James Johnson missed a dunk interfering with the ball going down as he tried to hang on the rim. You don't see that every day, which is why you don't see Johnson every game.
It's a long season, so I don't take much out of this game. But it will be
interesting to see how the Bulls respond in Boston.
If there was one lesson to learn from this game, it was this: No one said being a contender was easy.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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