Bulls teeter, but manage to hold off Orlando's late rally
Orlando Magic coach Jamahl Mosley probably drew this strategy up on the whiteboard before facing the Bulls on Saturday.
Jog through the first half, lull the Bulls to sleep, then attack late. That formula beat the Bulls twice already this week at Indiana and Charlotte.
This time, the Bulls let a 25-point lead slip to 5, but they hit enough big shots down the stretch to pull out a 128-109 victory over the Magic. It was a much-needed win to finish their road trip at 1-2. Now the Bulls (23-26) play the next four at home.
"I think we can learn from this, because it was a lot of tactical things," Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. "There were times we had to answer the bell and we did."
DeMar DeRozan set a personal milestone by going 5-for-5 from 3-point range, finishing with 32 points and 8 assists. Known as a midrange master, DeRozan did make six 3-pointers once with Toronto, but his previous season-high was three.
Zach LaVine also scored 32 points, while Nikola Vucevic enjoyed his return to Orlando by producing 26 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists.
Patrick Williams got the best of a matchup against rookie of the year favorite Paolo Banchero. Williams finished with 16 points and hit a 3-pointer to put the Bulls up by 10 with 3:29 left.
Banchero scored 9 points and hit just 3-of-14 shots. But Mosley didn't play any starters in the fourth quarter. A group of subs got the Magic back in the game and Mosely let them go the distance. Mo Wagner was Orlando's leading scorer with 27 points, while Cole Anthony had 21.
The Bulls' lead peaked at 89-64 with 3:27 left in the third. It took just five minutes for Orlando to reel off a 26-9 run to get within eight. The Magic finished the quarter by hitting 5 baskets from 3-point range, three by Wagner.
Orlando (19-31) pulled within 111-106 with 4:28 left after Anthony hit a 3-pointer. But LaVine answered with a driving lay in, then Anthony was fouled but missed both free throws with a chance to get back within 5. Williams then nailed a 3 off a pass from Alex Caruso and the Bulls pulled away from there.
There were a few minutes when it looked like this could be a replay of Indiana and Charlotte, where the Bulls were outscored by a combined 45 points in the second half.
"I thought the intensity of the game the last couple of games, especially in Indiana, when the intensity went up, we never responded," Donovan said. "I didn't think that was case tonight. I thought the issue was they made some 3s, Mo Wagner really played well and got them back in the game pretty quickly.
"Then I thought we had some really bad offensive possessions. We had some turnovers, we got up against the clock, things were rushed. I think once we settled in and started to move the ball a little bit better, we started to generate better shots coming down the stretch."
Derrick Jones Jr. landed badly on his right ankle in the third quarter, signaled to the bench that he needed to come out and then limped to the sideline. He did check back in the game a few minutes later.
Ball return still looks unlikely:
Donovan gave another Lonzo Ball update before the game and it was the same old story. It's looking less likely Ball will return this season, but there's still an open window.
"He's made some progress, it's slow progress," Donovan said. "I'd be the first one to tell you he's nowhere near playing. He's just not. Because he's not running on a consistent basis right now. So I think if he can get to that place where he can do that consistently ... I think you'd feel a little bit more optimistic about when he could return."
Ball hasn't played since last January and has had two arthroscopic surgeries on his left knee, the second in late September.