Bulls deliver clunker against NBA-worst Magic
With everything that's been going wrong for the Bulls, they caught a break by drawing a date with the worst team in the NBA.
At least, it should have been a break.
The Bulls responded with a miserable performance and had to sit back and watch Orlando Magic players pack a season's worth of frustration into a hyper celebration of Sunday's 114-95 victory.
DeMar DeRozan did his part, scoring a season-high 41 points. It was DeRozan's first 40-point game since 2018 when he was still in Toronto.
The Bulls are at a size disadvantage against the Magic, but this was more of a speed-deficit night. Their defense was scrambling to keep up all night.
An early 10-2 Bulls' advantage disappeared quickly as Orlando dominated in 3-point baskets (12-5) and assists (31-10). Starting guards Coby White (22 points) and Ayo Dosunmu didn't record a single assist.
"They were the aggressor from start to finish," coach Billy Donovan said. "I thought our ball movement was not very good, Give them credit because I thought their physicality, the way they blew things up and made it really challenging on our backcourt; we just didn't play well enough on either end of the floor."
The Bulls should have been able to count on a strong performance from center Nikola Vucevic, who spent most of his NBA career in Orlando. But Vucevic hit just 4 of 19 shots, led the team with 5 turnovers and fouled out.
"I was more disappointed in my focus defensively," Vucevic said. "Some of the things I've been pretty good at this year -- getting backcut, going for pump fakes, not being in right positions on pick-and-roll. There's so many ways for me to impact the game. I didn't bring the energy and focus needed to help us win the game."
The Bulls came to life bit after DeRozan took exception to a breakaway foul committed by Mo Wagner on a fast break. Wagner (23 points) grabbed him with both arms, but it was nothing even approaching the Grayson Allen flagrant foul from Friday.
DeRozan took exception to the contact, though, and had words for Wagner, who then knocked away DeRozan's arm while DeRozan came back with a light shove. Both players were given technical fouls, in addition to the clear-path foul.
"To me it was just stupid," DeRozan said. "Obviously was going to be a clear path."
The mild fracas led to an 8-0 Bulls run, as 3-pointers from Troy Brown Jr. and Vucevic followed DeRozan's free throws. That cut the lead to 7, but the Magic came right back with a pair of 3s from Iggy Brazdeikis and Chuma Okeke.
Vucevic went to the ground clutching his right knee in the fourth quarter after stumbling over Wendell Carter Jr., who had slipped to the floor. Vucevic stayed in the game and afterward said he just struck his knee on the floor, no twisting or anything.
The Bulls (28-17) have now lost six of their last seven games and play again Monday at Oklahoma City. Donovan said Zach LaVine and Javonte Green are planning to meet the team and could return from injuries against the Thunder.
"We get our main player back, that changes the whole dynamic of our team," DeRozan said. "The idea of having them back changes everything."
When the game ended, DeRozan had a big hug and encouraging words for Orlando rookie Jalen Suggs, who tossed down a big dunk over DeRozan late in the game. DeRozan also took an elbow on the play, but wasn't complaining.
"I've been a fan of his for a couple years, even without him knowing," DeRozan said of the former Gonzaga star. "Just telling him to keep going. He can be very very successful in this league and I'm rooting for him."
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