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Magic show growth in not collapsing with big lead

The Magic's defense stepped up and gave them a jolt when they needed it.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic have made a habit of playing in close games this season. Wednesday night against the Chicago Bulls, however, was different, but a performance they had also seen many times previously.

Up by 20 in the third quarter, the Magic became relaxed, allowing the Bulls to cut into the lead quickly dropping it down to 14. In most circumstances this season, the Magic would've folded, allowing the Bulls to scratch and claw their way back into single digits.

That simply was not the case on Wednesday night.

After coach Scott Skiles called a timeout, his Magic bunch came out and promptly pushed their lead back out to 17, killing any momentum the Bulls were slowly building. Having the ability to jump back out and push the lead back up a few more possessions is something the team has struggled with throughout the season.

Again, after allowing the Bulls to cut the lead down to 14 early in the fourth, the Magic answered, pushing the lead back to a game-high 22.

For a team that has struggled so much this season with big leads and restless play with those leads, Wednesday night was a welcoming sign for a bunch that continue to hold playoff aspirations.

"It was good," said Skiles when asked about sticking with it and holding the lead against the Bulls.

Though he was pleased with the effort, Skiles pointed to the issues the team has when they get a comfortable lead. "When it was like 18 and all of a sudden we stopped moving the ball and started going a little bit one-on-one... I just think it's almost like we got a little cushion and maybe I'll go off this time and go one-on-one and try to do something instead of staying with what's working. So, just something we have ti keep battling."

Second-year forward Aaron Gordon, who continued his torrid play finishing with a 13-point, 15-rebound double-double, said the team was just being consistent. "We really locked down on defense. We bought into the defensive principles today and we just made the right play all night long."

Gordon, who has been Orlando's most consistent player over the last few months, touched on the team's defense improving, which it did, against the reeling Bulls. With the caveat that the Bulls were missing four players, including All-Star Jimmy Butler due to injury, the Magic did as good of a job defensively as they had in a while.

When the final bell rung, the Magic had held the Bulls under 100 points, the first time the team has done that over their last five games, and close to 38 percent from the field. Both marks were vast improvements over the teams poor performance on Tuesday night in Dallas.

Individually, the team had some good performances on the defensive end.

Coach Skiles praised rookie Mario Hezonja, saying Hezonja had his best overall defensive game yet. "He did a nice job chasing people. He was pretty aware, except for like one or two times, of the movement and what was going on out there."

Hezonja, who is his own toughest critic, said he's "never happy with whatever I do individually."

"It was good obviously because we got the win, but there were still some mistakes," said Hezonja. "There was a backdoor in the first quarter if I'm not mistaken."

The fact the Magic were able to rely on their defense to keep them in the game, and from blowing a big lead is a welcoming sign.

With 22 games remaining, the team is still looking to turn themselves into a defensive minded team, and they need to start somewhere. While Wednesday against a beaten and battered Bulls team might not be their toughest test, getting some momentum heading into an important stretch is huge.

"I think we're learning and we're growing, and that's what really matters," said Victor Oladipo.

Learning they are as the Magic look to continue their momentum on Friday against the Phoenix Suns.