ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -Dwight Howard insists he didn't intend to hurt Derrick Rose. He was just protecting the basket.
So when Rose drove the lane hard and tried to finish over the towering center for the second time this season, the man who goes by ``Superman' again delivered on his nickname.
The Man of Steel.
``I think if you hit something that doesn't move,' Howard said, ``you usually end up falling.'
Howard went up. Rose went down. Two teams continued to head in opposite directions.
Vince Carter had 23 points to help the Magic pull away early and cruise past the injured Bulls, 111-82 on Thursday night for a season-high seventh straight win.
Matt Barnes added 14 points, and reserve Brandon Bass scored 13 in another blowout victory against a struggling team for the Magic.
``That's what we should've done,' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``They started the game a little undermanned, and then obviously when Rose went down, they were very undermanned.'
Rose sprained his left wrist in the midair collision with Howard in the first quarter and didn't return for the Bulls, the latest setback in a season that's quickly going sour. Taj Gibson and Hakim Warrick had 12 points apiece, not nearly enough to prevent Chicago's sixth consecutive loss.
``We've got to find a way to get healthy and weather the storm,' Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said. ``But there's no question we are a battered bunch right now.'
The Magic have left their mark on the Bulls this season - a big bruise the last two meetings for Rose.
The play was almost identical to the one that sidelined the Bulls star when the teams last met Feb. 10. Rose clutched his lower back and wrist before slowly rising to his feet, making one of the free throws.
``He's going full speed, and he's hitting basically an immovable object,' Van Gundy said.
Rose stayed in the game before being taken to the locker room after the quarter for an X-ray, which came back negative. He will have an MRI on Friday in Miami.
Howard he said he offered a suggestion to Rose during the All-Star break: jump off two feet to keep balance.
``I just want him to save years on his body,' Howard said.
The Magic had their way without Rose.
Howard had an alley-oop dunk on a pass from Jason Williams. Marcin Gortat had a one-handed slam on an alley-oop from Williams. Four different Magic players made at least one 3-pointer.
And that was just in the opening half, with Orlando going ahead 65-33.
Things got so out hand that fans chanted at full throat, ``We want Foyle,' referring to 35-year-old third-string center Adonal Foyle, the only Orlando player who hasn't played this season. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was even booed after he didn't give in during a late timeout. Van Gundy could only chuckle.
After all, this was a laugher.
The Bulls were outhustled by a Magic team playing its best basketball of the season. At a time when teams are trying to make a push toward the postseason, the Bulls couldn't be playing worse.
Or be missing so many key pieces.
They're already without their leading rebounder and inside defender, Joakim Noah, sidelined with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. And the Bulls' second-leading scorer, Luol Deng, is out with a strained right calf.
The injuries have led to poor play and pushed Chicago out of the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot. The Bulls are 1 1/2 games behind Miami, Charlotte and Toronto for the eighth seed.
The Magic moved 4 1/2 games behind first-place Cleveland - and 4 1/2 ahead of Boston - in the East. They have taken advantage of talent-deprived and injury-riddling teams the past two weeks.
Mixed in with a big win against the Lakers, the Magic have beaten the Clippers, Golden State, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Miami during their streak.
``Right now, we're trying to play the best basketball we can,' Carter said. ``Hopefully, roll it into the playoffs.'
NOTES: Magic backup SF Mickael Pietrus missed the game with a strained neck. He is day to day. ... Yankees ace CC Sabathia was sitting in the front row on the baseline for the third straight Magic home game.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved