Bulls beat Magic in a tale of two dunks
At what point does management's desire for a high draft pick fall away and personal pride take over on the basketball court?
In the case of the Orlando Magic, the breaking point appeared to be watching Denzel Valentine collect the first dunk of his NBA career. Valentine threw one down on a fast break to give the Bulls a 16-point lead with 9:19 left on Monday.
Plenty of people have been wondering if Valentine could dunk, maybe even some inside the Bulls' locker room. The Bulls bench erupted and Valentine ran back to the sideline with his arms spread wide, airplane-style.
Orlando called time out and seemed to scream, "Enough is enough." After giving up 2 more free throws to fall behind by 18, the Magic launched a 26-5 run in less than seven minutes, taking a 101-98 lead on Evan Fournier's 3-pointer with 2:41 left.
The Bulls pulled out a victory, though, when Zach LaVine stole an inbound pass and cruised in for an uncontested dunk with 12.4 seconds left. LaVine added 2 late free throws to seal a 105-101 victory at the United Center.
About that first dunk, though. The lack of elite athleticism has been a knock on the 6-5 Valentine since before he was chosen in the 2016 draft. In the locker room, Bobby Portis admitted he wasn't sure if he'd ever see it happen.
"I didn't, personally," Portis said. "But it was good to see him get up and do it. I was so ecstatic and happy for him because he always does all these dunks in practice, he says he's going to dunk on somebody, this and that. I think he was more hyped than anybody in the gym. I'm proud of him."
Well, it seemed to be no coincidence the Magic made a massive comeback shortly after the Bulls caught up in the glare of Denzel's dunk.
"I took some of the blame for that, but I'm glad we were able to pull it out and win," Valentine said. "I had a lot of dunks in high school and a lot of dunks in college. It's more of a mindset thing for me. Once I get my first one, then I'll start dunking more. More to come for sure."
After Fournier finished the run and put Orlando ahead, Portis tied the score with a 3-pointer. The teams combined f or a run of bad possessions until Orlando got the ball with the score and 15.2 seconds left.
Magic forward Jonathon Simmons tossed a routine inbounds pass a little too far in front of teammate Shelvin Mack. As Mack reached to catch the pass, LaVine ran in from behind to collect a steal and uncontested dunk for the go-ahead basket. Mario Hezonja air-balled a long 3-pointer and LaVine added the free throws.
"I was trying to be aggressive on the inbound, trying to make it hard for him to catch," LaVine said. "I wasn't trying to go for a steal and gamble and be out of position. But it opened up like it did, I was going for it."
Heading into Monday's action, just two games separated the bottom eight teams in the NBA standings. The Bulls (20-36) were at the top of the list, which means they're on target to draft eighth, barring extreme lottery luck, while Orlando (18-38) was at No. 5.
Another storyline Monday was the Bulls finally getting Lauri Markkanen more involved. Against Washington on Saturday, the rookie from Finland took his first official shot attempt at the 4:25 mark of the first quarter.
By that point in Monday's contest, Markkanen was already 4-for-6 from the field. He finished with a team-high 21 points, his first 20-point game since scoring 33 against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10.
Portis added 19 points and LaVine scored 18. Hezonja scored 14 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter for Orlando.