Orlando Magic

Easy win and a big statement as Bulls pick up seventh straight win

Easy win and a big statement as Bulls pick up seventh straight win

Here's the observations from the Bulls' 112-94 win over the Orlando Magic, Wednesday at the United Center.

Grand opening, grand closing: This one was over before it started as the Bulls jumped on a disinterested Magic team from the beginning with a 12-0 start and had Magic coach Frank Vogel disgusted early.

With Cleveland ahead on Thursday and coming off Monday’s thrilling win over the 76ers, Wednesday’s game was a trap game of sorts but the Bulls took matters seriously early.

“The start was key. We wanted to get out the gates,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “It’s not the easiest thing to do is put that (Philadelphia) behind you, move onto the next. I was really pleased.”

Now, it helped the Magic looked as if they had one night too many on Rush Street in their three-day stay in Chicago, but the Bulls’ ball movement was crisp and it led to a season-high 31 assists as the Bulls got a combined 28 points and 13 assists from Kris Dunn and Jerian Grant.

It looked like the actual manifestation of Hoiberg’s offensive vision, even if the Bulls hit just 11 of 33 3-pointers. It was the spirit in which they moved the ball, leading to them taking a 30-point lead in the fourth quarter. As opposed to going through the motions, as they appeared to do to start the season, they now have purpose with ball movement.

They actually know where they’re going and what they want to do.

As much of a punching bag as he’s been through his time in Chicago, Hoiberg deserves credit for that.

For the way this team has stuck together through adversity of all kinds, they’ve seemed to take on Hoiberg’s demeanor through this phase.

He’s stressed the importance of ball movement and with six players in double figures, there’s no talk or worry about him losing this team.

“Justin (Holiday) had a great pass, we spread it to the corner and we had a ‘good to great play’ as we call it, where Justin had a good shot but he gave Denzel a great shot in an open corner three,” Hoiberg said.

For once, he can sleep easy in December.

Dunn and Valentine: In the way of player development, two of Hoiberg’s biggest successes have to come in the form of Dunn and Denzel Valentine.

Dunn has continued his torrid play with another stat-filling performance, scoring 15 with seven assists, six rebounds and three steals in 24 minutes. As for Dunn, he was averaging 16.8 points, 7.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals during the streak headed into Wednesday’s game.

He didn’t make the highlight plays, instead he took advantage of a lax defense, often finding Robin Lopez inside for easy, simple opportunities.

“The chemistry is good, positive energy,” Dunn said. “Executing well. Offensively, we’re starting to get more together.”

The Bulls have given him a mix of freedom and structure, and he’s responded in waves. He doesn’t hold onto the ball long before making some kind of movement and isn’t afraid to kick it out ahead to Holiday or Valentine to allow them to make plays.

“They’re making better reads in the offense, doing a much better job,” Hoiberg said. “So when you cut, and move, and understand where guys are going to be, that’s a big part of it and we’re getting a lot better shots.”

Valentine had arguably his most complete game of the year with 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, along with a game-high plus-minus of +24.

When Zach LaVine comes back, one wonders where Valentine will fit in the starting unit or in the rotation completely. But placing Valentine at small forward in the meantime, both have made the best of things.

Valentine is seeing the floor better and shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. He made three of four Wednesday. And when given a chance to make plays, those passes finally hit the mark, none prettier than his no-look pass on the break to Nikola Mirotic for a lefty layup.
Of course, Valentine is a confident kid and offered up this gem about where this team sits with its winning streak.

“I just think, with our whole team back now, I think we’re one of the best teams in the East because of our matchups,” Valentine said. “We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things. I know we started off bad, but I think we’re one of the better teams in the East.”

Alrighty, then!

Markkanen not all the way back yet: Lauri Markkanen didn’t look like his usual self in his second game back from back spasms. On one hand, he was just three of 10 and missed all four of his 3-point shots in 19 minutes.

On the other, he and the Bulls recognized the natural mismatch of the Magic putting 6-foot-8 Mario Hezonja on Markkanen, and he hit two mid-range shots by positioning himself near the basket and shooting over the top of the smaller defender.

“We are being careful with Lauri right now,” Hoiberg said. “But he feels great, felt better today than he did against Philadelphia. He just looks a little off balance, so we’ll get back to work on that and fix a little with his mechanics. He’ll get it back, I have no concern with that.”

Luckily, power forward is his deepest position so Mirotic and Bobby Portis again did their work off the bench. Mirotic had 15 and 10 rebounds while Portis scored 14 with five rebounds in just 14 minutes of run.

Honesty: The Magic are terrible and the Bulls took advantage of a struggling team the way they were supposed to.

And LeBron James and the Cavaliers are waiting, along with the Boston Celtics on Saturday.

It’s likely the streak will end and another one of a different kind will begin, an expected streak against the conference leaders of the East.

But it doesn’t mean Hoiberg hasn’t relished the experience or recognized the change in the tone surrounding his team—especially in their own building.

“Our fans have been unbelievable,” Hoiberg said. “That game against Philly, it was absolutely rocking in here. It was a lot of fun, great experience for a lot of our guys to play in that type of environment. Following it up with a great crowd tonight. We really appreciate everything our fans have brought to us, they’ve been awesome this year.”

Three Things to Watch: Bulls go for seventh straight win against Magic

12-20_matchup-nba_bulls-vs-magic_blank.jpg

Three Things to Watch: Bulls go for seventh straight win against Magic

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Bulls take on the Orlando Magic tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live.

1. Let's make it seven: Bulls fan or not, optimist or pessimist, this streak of six straight wins has to be the most unlikely run from an NBA team in recent memory. Of course, stretching the streak to seven games would be even more unlikely. So why not go for it? The Bulls still have plenty of season left to accomplish (or fizzle) whatever they want. For now they're the feel-good story of the NBA, reeling off six straight W's on the heels of 10 straight losses. Keep this thing going as long as possible. Plus, their next three games (at Cleveland, at Boston, at Milwaukee) are going to be crazy difficult, so pushing it to lucky No. 7 tonight might be as far as it goes.

2. Nikola Vucevic. He's the best player you've never heard of if you're a casual NBA fan. So let's introduce you to the man the Bulls will be tasked with slowing down (especially with Aaron Gordon out). Vucevic has averaged 17.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 3-pointers per game from the center position. He does a little bit of everything for the Magic and has given the Bulls fits in the past.

3. NIKO'S BACK. Ok, this one was obvious. We all want to see how far Nikola Mirotic can take this thing. Whether he runs his winning streak to eight games to begin the year, he can add to his fantastic start. To recap, Mirotic is averaging 20.3 points while shooting .519/.500/.690. He's also averaging 7.3 rebounds in just 26.2 minutes per game, making this all the more incredible. Has Mirotic finally turned the corner and become what the Bulls always thought he could be? Time will tell, but he's never looked better and is looking like a potential building block of the future in Chicago. Let's see what kind of magic he has in store for Orlando tonight.

David Nwaba is having a block party and the whole NBA is invited

David Nwaba is having a block party and the whole NBA is invited

David Nwaba probably isn't the Bulls' longterm option at guard, but he's certainly making the most of his starting opportunity. 

Signed this offseason in a move framed as Gar Forman and John Paxson taking a low-risk flyer on an athletic defender, the 24-year-old Cal Poly alumnus has impacted games with his high energy and all-around floor game. 

Case and point: Friday's feel-good, 105-83 road win over a surprisingly solid Orlando Magic squad, where Nwaba finished with 16 points, five boards, two steals while posting a game-high plus-21. 

Maybe the most eye-opening moment of the Bulls' second victory of the season, though, was the block party invitation Nwaba hand-delivered to Magic forward Wesley Iwundu:

It caps a solid road trip for the second-year pro, who's played in only 27 career NBA games. In the Bulls' loss to Miami on Wednesday -- Nwaba's first start of the season -- he snagged 11 rebounds and rejected two shots. 

And while there are clear limitations to Nwaba's offensive game (see: outside shooting), his high motor, pressure defense and, you guessed it, ridiculous blocks have been welcoming sights for a team with a penchant to miss assignments and allow the more-than-occasional blow by. 

"I don’t expect you to know who I am," Nwaba wrote in a Player's Tribune essay just after being claimed by the Bulls. "I’m just thankful to have the chance to tell you."

It looks like he's done telling us now, opting instead to just show us: 

Nwaba will lose minutes to Zach LaVine once the Bulls' top talent recovers from ACL injury, but as of now, he's played himself into a future rotation.