CHICAGO (AP) -Dwight Howard insisted his intentions were pure, that he was simply trying to block a layup and in no way meant to injure Derrick Rose.
It's just that the lane can be a dangerous place. Particularly when ``Superman' is lurking.
``He hit the 'Man of Steel,'' Howard said.
Howard had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and the Orlando Magic pulled away early for a 107-87 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night for their 10th win in 12 games.
Orlando led 41-17 through the first quarter and didn't have to contend with Rose, Chicago's All-Star point guard, after he left with a bruised right hip following the hard foul by Howard in the opening minutes. That was a chilling sight on a night when little went right for the Bulls, and the Magic could do no wrong.
They certainly look ready for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, a showdown between the Eastern Conference's top teams before the All-Star break.
Howard had his league-leading 41st double-double, while Vince Carter scored 15 points after pouring in a season-high 48 in a win over New Orleans on Monday. Matt Barnes added 14 for the Magic, who had seven players in double figures.
``We had so many guys rolling tonight,' Carter said.
Luol Deng led Chicago with 23 points, his fourth straight game with 20 or more, but the Bulls never had a chance - particularly after Rose went down, throwing his status for the weekend's All-Star game into question.
``Quite honestly, without Derrick, they're a little easier to defend,' Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said before correcting himself. ``Not a little easier.'
Selected to the U.S. national team pool Wednesday, Rose's day took a drastic turn for the worse almost as soon as the game began. He drove the lane hard for a layup about 2 1/2 minutes into it and got knocked to the floor by Howard, clutching his lower back before slowly rising to his feet. Rose then hit a free throw to complete the three-point play but left right after that.
``Hopefully, he's OK,' Howard said. ``It's never my intention to hurt him or anybody, but it's my job to protect the basket.'
Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said: ``I don't think there was anything intended there at all, just to try to block a shot.'
Rose went for an MRI at a nearby hospital after X-rays taken at the arena showed no structural damage and was unavailable for comment. His availability for the All-Star game depends on the test results and how his body responds. That injury also left Chicago without two of its best players, with center Joakim Noah sidelined by plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
``Let's see what the MRI says,' Del Negro said. ``Let's see how much discomfort, how stiff he is tomorrow. Usually, those things tend to loosen up rapidly, and luckily, we do have the All-Star break. I just hope he's all right to participate because he deserves it and I want him to enjoy himself.'
There was nothing enjoyable about this one for the Bulls.
The Magic followed up a 68-point second half in Monday's win over New Orleans with their second-most prolific quarter this season.
They hit 15 of 22 shots in the opening period, including 11 of their first 13 while jumping out to a 30-11 lead. With a 9-6 lead after Rose's three-point play, they scored 11 straight to break it open - a layup by Barnes, a 3-pointer by Rashard Lewis and another layup by Barnes capping that run.
Carter, meanwhile, hit a 3-pointer and a 16-footer to make it 30-11 with about five minutes left in the quarter. After two free throws by Deng, Howard spun toward the rim for a thunderous alley-oop dunk from Jameer Nelson.
``(Rose) does so much for us. But from the beginning, we were kind of out to lunch,' Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich said.
NOTES: The Magic scored 42 points in the opening quarter against Golden State on Dec. 5, when they had 72 in the half. ... Before the game, Rose said he planned to soak in the atmosphere and absorb a few lessons at the All-Star game this weekend. ``You get to see what the players do on and off the court, with the media, how they treat their fans, and just learn from it,' he said. One thing he won't do: Lobby the potential big-name free agents to sign with Chicago in the summer. ``If they choose to come here, I wouldn't mind, to tell you the truth.' ... Del Negro said F Taj Gibson will be limited to about four or five minutes per half in the Rookie Challenge because of plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved