CHICAGO // The Magic had to beat the best to overcome the sting of losing to the worst.
The Magic bounced back from a 100-84 loss at Charlotte, beating the Bulls two nights after losing to the Bobcats, who sport a league-worst 5-32 record. Despite the loss, Chicago's 33-9 mark is tops in the Eastern Conference.
"We stepped up tonight and everybody played great," Howard said. "I think it was our defense that got us the lead early in the game. We forced a couple of turnovers and we were able to run and get easy buckets.
"We have to play that brand of basketball to compete for a championship. We can't fall back and have a game like Charlotte and expect to be in the same breath as Chicago and Miami."
Chicago twice overcame double-digit deficits and led 91-89 with 2:56 to play after Derrick Rose passed to Carlos Boozer for a jumper.
Orlando responded with an 8-1 run started by Jameer Nelson's lob to Howard for a vicious, two-hand dunk out of a timeout. Ryan Anderson hit a 3 and a pair of free throws in the decisive rally.
"There is some luck to it," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Towards the end, we had two guys laying on the ground and they don't get a basket. Our offensive rebounding down the stretch was big."
Boozer led the Bulls with 26 points. Rose added 17 points and nine assists, but shot just 6 for 22 from the field. The Bulls missed a number of layups and open 3-pointers down the stretch.
"We came out kind of sluggish, got ourselves into a hole and couldn't dig ourselves out," Rose said.
Designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver hit just 1 of 7 from long range, including a misfire from the corner after defender Jason Richardson fell down, leaving him unguarded.
"I thought at least three of them were in the bottom of the bucket," Korver said. "You've got one play where everybody falls down and it goes in and out. I need to come through on those."
Richardson scored 18 points and hit four 3-pointers for the Magic. Orlando hit 11 3-pointers, most of them in the early going.
"We were really moving the ball well," Anderson said. "Moving it inside and out with Dwight. Dwight did a great job passing out of double teams."
The Magic jumped out to a 17-point lead in the first quarter after a conventional three-point play finished by Howard capped an 11-point Orlando run. Orlando shot 15 for 20 and hit six 3-pointers in the opening period.
The Magic still led by 15 after Howard put in a lob from Hedo Turkoglu with 1:58 to go in the first half. Howard scored 19 points before the break.
"When you get that far in the hole, you can't win like that," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "That comes back on me. I have to get them ready to play. That hole should not have been there."
Korver scored eight straight Chicago points to keep the Bulls in the game, then the Bulls reeled off the last 10 points of the second quarter to gain the momentum heading into the break.
"Kyle taking those shots, we'll live with that all day," Bulls center Joakim Noah said. "Kyle getting an open look, there is no better offense than that in the whole NBA."
Luol Deng hit a wide-open 3 after an offensive rebound by Noah, cutting the Orlando lead to single digits for the first time since midway through the first quarter.
Nelson threw away a pass and Rose hit a running 3 as the half expired, drawing Chicago within 57-52.
In the third quarter, Boozer capped an 8-2 run with a short jumper that gave Chicago its first lead of the game. Orlando responded with a 13-4 run to end the quarter, the last six of its points coming on back-to-back Richardson 3-pointers.
"We tried to run them off their spots," Rose said. "But they're a team who doesn't care if you contest their 3s. They will shoot them anyway."
Orlando led by 10 early in the fourth quarter before Chicago tied the game with a nine-point run. Boozer scored eight points in the first three minutes of the quarter.
That set up the furious finish.
"Our guys gave up the lead and then hung in there and fought real hard," Van Gundy said. "It was a great win to beat them. The best team in the league."
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