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Bulls 98, Magic 90: Shorthanded Chicago pulls away in fourth

Even without Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose, Chicago held on to send Orlando to its fourth straight defeat Tuesday.

Nikola Mirotić, Ben Gordon, and Taj Gibson
Nikola Mirotić, Ben Gordon, and Taj Gibson
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic's road woes continued Tuesday in the Windy City as the Chicago Bulls pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 98-90 win. The loss is Orlando's 51st in its last 55 road contests, dating to the end of the 2012/13 season.

Five Bulls scored in double-figures in a balanced effort, which they needed given that Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah sat out due to injury. Jimmy Butler finished with 21 points and nine boards, while Pau Gasol pitched in 16 and 13.

Tobias Harris led the Magic with 21 points. Nik Vučević tallied his fourth double-double in as many games, with 19 points and 13 rebounds, but shot just 9-of-22 from the floor with six turnovers.

Excellent starts from Vučević and Elfrid Payton helped to stake Orlando to a 28-24 lead in the first quarter. Vučević shot 4-of-7 for eight points and made himself available to his teammates on rolls to the basket. He also asserted himself against Gasol in the post, taking a patient approach and floating in a lefty hook over the future Hall-of-Famer.

Payton, meanwhile, combined deft passing with his remarkable quickness to impose his will on both ends of the floor. Though he missed two of three shot attempts, Payton helped in other ways by playing pesky defense and keeping the ball moving.

The game changed in the second quarter as Orlando's shot selection took a turn for the worse. Notwithstanding a three-pointer from Channing Frye 45 seconds into the period--a creative set involving a handoff and pitch-back with Ben Gordon--the Magic appeared to settle for too many long jumpers instead of attacking the basket, as they did in the first. Meanwhile, rookie forward Doug McDermott came off Chicago's bench gunning, scoring 12 points in the period by using the threat of his outside shot to set up his drives.

With McDermott and Butler scoring with ease--the pair combined for 27 points in the first half--the big question for Orlando as the second half opened was what it could do defensively to stop that pair. And as a follow-up, would coach Jacque Vaughn call upon the defensive specialist Maurice Harkless?

The question proved immaterial: the teams did a decent enough job preventing themselves from scoring in a dreadful third period. Chicago went 4-of-17 from the floor for 15 points, while Orlando went 8-of-23 for 17, thus winning a third quarter for the first time in four tries on the 2014/15 season.

Neither team moved the ball well in the third as both teams improved their defensive intensity and execution. Chicago varied its post coverages of Vučević, frustrating the fourth-year center into committing two turnovers and missing his four shot attempts. Were it not for a resurgent Harris, who shot 4-of-5 for eight points in an impressive showing of off-the-bounce creativity, Orlando would have found itself in a significant hole entering the fourth.

The opening two minutes of the fourth featured four lead changes and one tie, but the Bulls took the lead for good at the 8:26 mark when Kirk Hinrich converted a layup. A Vučević turnover on Orlando's next trip led to a trey for Bulls forward Nikola Mirotić, and Orlando never seriously challenged after that basket.

If there's anything to take away from Tuesday's game, it's that Orlando beat the Bulls at their own game--grind it out and make it ugly--for precisely one quarter. However, the Bulls' superior skill and edge in experience decided the game in their favor.

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