Bulls

Observations: Bulls find new bottom in loss to Magic

Bulls
USA Today

The Bulls (22-32) saw their losing streak stretch to four with a largely lackluster 115-106 loss to the Orlando Magic (18-37).

Here are 18 observations:

1. It wouldn't have felt outlandish to term this one a must-win for the Bulls. They entered play with a post-trade deadline record of 3-7, and amid a three-game losing streak that featured defeats at the hands of the severely shorthanded Atlanta Hawks and league-worst Minnesota Timberwolves.

Well, the Bulls trailed by as many as 23 points en route to a nine-point defeat. It wasn't pretty.

2. The Magic ended the first quarter ahead 10 points, an ominous beginning. The Bulls committed six turnovers and relied on the 3-point line (5-for-9) and transition game (nine fastbreak points) for a large share of their 22 points. To put it simply: It was another flat start, and  unacceptably so given the circumstances.

3. Daniel Theis gave the Bulls another much-needed boost, scoring 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting in the first half, and flying from assignment to assignment on the defensive end with reckless abandon. He, and some torrid 3-point shooting (11-for-19), kept them afloat.

Theis eventually finished with 16 points, six rebounds and a block, and played closing minutes.

4. The Magic, who entered play 28th in offensive rating, scored 54 points on 54.8 percent shooting in the first half, outscoring the Bulls 24-14 in the paint. Until a 12-3 run cut their deficit to just 54-53 at the break, it was a rather abysmal two-way effort.

 

By night's end: Orlando posted 115 points on 49.4 percent shooting, 12-for-27 from 3, and took 20 free throws to the Bulls' nine.

5. Nikola Vučević came alive in that late-second-quarter stretch, ending the first half with 16 points (4-for-4 from 3-point range) and six rebounds. Without much firing offensively, he was essential.

That continued into the second half, as Vučević poured in another 13 points points to finish with 29 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks (11-for-20 shooting, 5-for-8 from deep) in his first game against his former team.

6. This was Wendell Carter Jr.'s first trip back to Chicago since being dealt. Beforehand, it was all smiles. After warming up an hour-and-a-half or so before tipoff, Carter made rounds around the Bulls bench, sharing a laugh-filled conversation with Patrick Williams and Coby White, pleasantries with assistant coaches Mo Cheeks and John Bryant (who works with the team's bigs) and good-natured words with other staffers.

Then, the game, in which Carter pledged to compete with a chip on his shoulder, began. He played like it early, tallying four points, four rebounds and two assists and steals apiece in his first, eight-minute stint (which began with a loud dunk to counter a Vučević 3-pointer on the Magic's first possession).

By the half, Carter had seven points, five rebounds and three assists. He added nine points and a block in the third quarter, then notched a few big buckets in the fourth to end with 19 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block.

7. The Magic ended the third quarter on a 22-6 run, and led 93-72 entering the fourth. They outshot the hosts by almost 20 percentage points in the period, including a scalding 5-for-9 mark from behind the arc. Through three quarters, the Magic had 44 paint points, 15 second-chance points and 14 fastbreak points, all indicators of the Bulls' lackadaisical play.

8. That period looked poised to plunge the Bulls to a new bottom. But they did punch back in the fourth quarter, engineering a 21-5 run over a nearly-five minute span to cut a 99-77 Magic lead to 104-98 with just under four minutes to play.

9. Zach LaVine had 13 points in that spurt, and 21 in the fourth, overall, to lead the charge. He finished with 30 points (11-for-22 shooting, 6-for-12 from 3), seven assists and four turnovers.

10. On the first play after a timeout trailing 106-98, LaVine had a pass intercepted and taken coast-to-coast for two by Michael Carter-Williams to extend the Magic lead back to double-digits. Orlando executed a few blitzes of LaVine perfectly in high-leverage moments.

The Bulls struck back again, but Orlando, of course, held on.

11. In LaVine, Vučević and Theis, the Bulls placed three players in double-figures. The rest of the rotation, once again, lacked for offensive juice, combining for just 31 points.

12. Patrick Williams did show signs of bursting from his funk. He scored five quick first-quarter points on a cutting lay-in and spot-up 3-pointer, and with an and-one at the 3:28 mark of the second surpassed his point total from his last three games combined (six). Still, the rookie finished nine points on four shot attempts.

 

13. Coby White's struggles continue. On his first play of the game after checking in off the bench, he fired an errant pass out of bounds, eventually ending the first quarter with three turnovers. After a turbulent, five-minute first period stint that also featured trouble guarding the crafty Cole Anthony, White played just seven minutes between quarters two and four and finished with two points on 1-for-4 shooting.

14. Garrett Temple returned to action after an eight-game absence with a hamstring strain that had sidelined him since March 29. On a playing-time restriction as he reacclimates, Temple logged 10 minutes.

15. For his first stint, he checked in alongside Troy Brown Jr. -- a good early sign for those hoping Temple's return wouldn't eat into Brown's minutes. Brown played 13 minutes, including closing ticks in the fourth along with Theis (27 minutes), who Donovan has displayed trust in.

Denzel Valentine and Al-Farouq Aminu also saw run as Billy Donovan deployed a 12-man rotation.

16. Thad Young logged just 14 minutes and scored two points on 1-for-5 shooting. Except for a 20-point night against the Grizzlies, he's endured an uncharacteristic lull of late as his role has shifted post-trade.

17. Along with Carter, the Magic had six players score in double-figures. James Ennis (5-for-6 from deep), Gary Harris (3-for-4), Anthony (10 points, five assists) and Donta Hall (nine rebounds, two blocks, one steal, countless hustle plays) stood out. 

18. With the loss -- which continues a four-game skid and makes them 3-8 since the trade deadline -- the Bulls drop to 10 games below .500 at 22-32. Through 54 games last season, they were 19-35.

Standings update: The Bulls finished the night one game up on the Raptors and Wizards for 10th in the East, the last spot in the play-in tournament. The Cavaliers lurk two games back. 

The Pacers, meanwhile, sit four games ahead of the Bulls in ninth, and the Hornets five games in front for eighth.

Next up: Home for the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.

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