Late run gives Bulls win over Magic ahead of hectic stretch
Was the Bulls' loss last week in Orlando a fluke, produced by a depleted roster? Or was it more of a warning sign?
The Bulls got a chance to correct the mistake Tuesday at the United Center as the teams met for the fourth and final time this season.
It was another high-scoring game, but the Bulls finally strung together enough defensive stops to pull out a 126-115 victory. Orlando went scoreless over the last 5:34.
The Bulls led by 13 early in the fourth quarter, but even while things were going well, Orlando was always a couple long shots away from getting back in it. Sure enough, after a Cole Anthony 3-point play, Franz Wagner 3-pointer and Jalen Suggs lay in, the game was tied 113-113 with 6:03 left.
After missing a few chances to take the lead, the Bulls went ahead on a Zach LaVine driving bank with 3:36 left. DeMar DeRozan followed with a long turnaround jumper over Wagner, then rookie Ayo Dosunmu hit an 18-foot pull up and 3-pointer for a clutch 9-0 run. Nikola Vucevic added free throws with 1:17 remaining.
To say the Bulls needed this win would be a Magic Kingdom-sized understatement. Straight in front of them is the worst stretch of an already hectic schedule.
The rescheduled game in Toronto on Thursday will kick off a stretch of four in five nights and seven in 10 days. After the Raptors, the Bulls visit Indiana, then host Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon and Phoenix on Monday. The Bulls are already 0-2 against the Sixers, while the Suns sport the league's best record.
"This next stretch is really challenging," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said before the game. "We'll just have to see where these guys are at physically as we go through this. I think I mentioned all the way back in December when this whole thing kind of started. We'll see how it goes, but it's hard.
"Some of these games that have been made up have been put on either the front or back end of a game and it's created more back-to-backs. I think in the next two weeks we have three sets of back-to-back games and that's hard. But we'll have to deal with it and go one game at a time and just see where our guys are at physically as we kind of get in the thick of it."
The Bulls had three games postponed in December due to too many players in health and safety protocols. All three rescheduled games created new sets of back-to-backs
The Bulls enjoyed some rare practice time Monday at the Advocate Center. It was a chance to work on their slipping defense, but there wasn't much sign of improvement early in this game.
After the Magic scored on its first two possessions, Donovan called a timeout just 67 seconds into the contest. During the first quarter, Orlando shot a stellar 60.9% from the field, but the Bulls held a 34-33 lead.
When the Bulls took a 70-63 lead into halftime, it was the first time they'd scored 70 in the first half in consecutive games. They got some help late in the second quarter when Cole Anthony was called for a technical foul for hanging and shaking the rim after a dunk, then Wendell Carter Jr. got a tech for bouncing the ball off the basket support.
Orlando does have the look of a young team that's starting to gel now that guards Anthony and Suggs are back from injuries. After beating the Bulls last week, the Magic added two more wins over Detroit and Dallas.
Fortunately for the Bulls, their offense was locked in. DeRozan had another efficient scoring game. He hit 12 of 20 shots on the way to 29 points, which included a throwback poster dunk over Orlando's Chuma Okeke on the opening possession of the second quarter. LaVine added 26 points, while former Magic center Vucevic had 18 points and 13 rebounds.
Dosunmu, selected to the Rising Stars roster before the game, was an important catalyst with his passing. In the first half when the game was close, Dosunmu (13 points, 9 rebounds) collected several easy assists, where he drew the defense and delivered a pass for wide-open lay-in.