The Orlando Magic showed why they're already there.
Jameer Nelson scored 24 points and the Magic dominated the paint and cruised to a 107-78 victory over Chicago on Wednesday night, spoiling the Bulls debut of Boozer.
"We just wanted to bring a lot of intensity," Nelson said. "Tonight we brought it from jump ball to the end."
Nelson got no argument from Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau.
"They outplayed us in every facet of the game," Thibodeau said.
Boozer played his first game of the season after missing all of Chicago's preseason games plus the first 15 of the regular season after breaking the fifth metatarsal in his right hand in an accident at his home on Oct. 2.
"We got beat, bad," Boozer said. "I think our team [is] a lot better than we showed tonight. We're going to move forward."
On the bright side, Boozer said his hand wasn't a problem.
"My hand felt great," he said. "I went up and down. The first six minutes, the game felt much faster than practice, but I settled myself down a little bit.
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"I think it's a starting point and it only gets better from here."
He looked like a player who hadn't played in a while. Tentative most of the game, Boozer finished with five points and two rebounds in 22 minutes, shooting 2 for 5 from the floor.
"That is to be expected," Thibodeau said of Boozer's rust. "I saw some good and not so good. I like his energy. He can only get better."
The Bulls have been playing well lately, but Thibodeau wasn't willing to chalk up the loss to Boozer's return.
"We don't want to make any excuses," Thibodeau said. "The way we started the game led to our demise. We gave them too many easy second-chance opportunities."
Joakim Noah led Chicago with 16 points in 25 minutes, but failed to grab a rebound. Noah entered the contest as the NBA's second-leading rebounder with 13.2 per game.
"We were not reacting the way we should," Thibodeau said. "We have to fight a lot harder."
Noah hadn't gone an entire game without a rebound since Dec. 27, 2008, a contest in which he played just six minutes. In games in which Noah has played eight or more minutes, he'd never gone without a rebound.
"It's frustrating," Noah said. "That's my job, to rebound the basketball, and I wasn't able to do that tonight."
Derrick Rose added 15 points in 32 minutes for the Bulls and said the adjustment period should have been expected with Boozer coming into the mix.
"I knew it wouldn't be anything pretty," he said. "When we get our connections going, I think we should be all right."
Carter scored 20 points during the first half. The Magic finished with a 44-21 edge in rebounding, a 27-13 advantage in second-chance points and outscored Chicago 46-26 in the paint. The Bulls entered the game third in the NBA in rebounding percentage.
The Bulls' 21 rebounds established a new franchise low for a single game. The previous low was 25 boards against Miami on Feb. 18, 2002.
Dwight Howard scored 13 points for Orlando and grabbed 12 rebounds.
"Coach has really been getting on us lately on rebounding," Howard said. "I think we did a good job tonight boxing out and everybody hitting somebody."
The primary "somebody" that Howard hit turned out Noah.
"I tried to do a pretty good job on Noah," Howard said. "He's playing great for one, but he's also rebounding at a very high level."
Orlando led by as many as 25 points in the first half and it was never close from there. The fourth quarter played out with mostly with reserves on the floor, a letdown for the sellout crowd of 21,435 in Chicago's first game at the United Center since Nov. 13. The game ended to the sound of boos.
The Bulls (9-7) last played on Saturday, a 96-85 win over Sacramento that completed a seven-game road trip during which Chicago went 4-3, and should have been well rested. Instead, it was the Magic with the fresh-looking legs.
The Magic played at Orlando on Tuesday and despite the short rest -- and a virus going around the team that had forward Mickael Pietrus vomiting in the hallway at one point in the first half -- Orlando had little trouble in raising its Eastern Conference-best record to 14-4.
"For a lot of reasons I thought this was our best game of the year," said Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. "One of them was to take the team that's leading in rebound margin and dominate on the glass. We're a pretty good rebounding team."
Orlando has won five straight games overall. The Magic entered the game tied with the Boston Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
- The Bulls lost to Orlando 105-67 in a preseason game on Oct. 16.
- Carter passed John Stockton for 37th place on the NBA's career scoring list. Carter now has 19,714 points during his 12-plus seasons in the league.
- Boozer, considered the crown jewel of the Bulls' offseason rebuilding plan, was injured shortly before the start of the preseason schedule. He said that he fell over a bag that had been left on the floor when he rushed to answer the door of his apartment.
- Magic forward Rashard Lewis left the game with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not re-enter the game, though he did return the Orlando bench to watch fourth quarter. Van Gundy said Lewis twisted his left knee and felt a bit of sharp pain, but the team trainer Keon Weise didn't feel like the injury was serious. Lewis will be re-evaluated on Thursday.