With the Magic at their worst health all season, down Evan Fournier, Jodie Meeks, and now D.J. Augustin, they needed a big game from Elfrid Payton to have a chance against the Bulls. Had he played with the same success he has for the last month, the Magic may have won handily. Unfortunately, he picked the worst time to have arguably his worst game of the season, committing 8 turnovers on the way to the Magic’s 100-92 loss at home to Chicago. Nikola Vucevic led the Magic in scoring with 20, 12 of those coming in the second half. Dwyane Wade overcame a slow start to lead the Bulls with 21 while leading the crucial 4th-quarter charge that won them the game.
The game had “ugly” written all over it from tip-off, as both teams appeared to travel in slow motion, committing silly turnovers and settling for terrible shots. The Magic managed to strike first, getting out to a 8-2 lead, which grew to 14-6. That’s when Butler took things into his own hands, taking several iso drives and producing a layup and 4 free throws to drag the Bulls back into it. At the same time, the Magic, playing without three of their best long-range shooters, found themselves settling for several fruitless midrange shots, which allowed the Bulls to briefly take the lead. Still, the Magic were able to retake a small 22-20 lead.
With three guards out of the lineup, the Magic were forced into some tough rotational decisions, the first being, curiously, to bring in Damjan Rudez late in the first quarter. With Green filling on the wing instead of his usual PF minutes, and with Vogel unwilling to play Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo together for long periods, it was necessary to dive deeper into the big man rotation to find more minutes. The early results were decent, with Rudez hitting two 3-pointers. Hezonja played some quality minutes as well, scoring just 3 points, but collecting 4 rebounds and playing relatively mistake free until he let Doug McDermott loose for a couple open corner 3s. McDermott led the Bulls in scoring with 12, while Ibaka had 13 for Orlando. Wade finally got going as well, scoring 8 after going 0-5 in the first, which helped Chicago to a 52-49 halftime lead.
The third was marked by numerous moments of offensive clarity mixed with total ineptitude. For the first few minutes, the Magic ran some quality sets, running some basic pick-and-rolls, grabbing some offensive boards, and taking open shots. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to last, as the mistakes began piling up, especially from Elfrid Payton, who had 7 of the Magic’s 14 TOs by the end of the quarter. He got caught several times driving into multiple defenders without a way out, getting the ball stripped time and time again. When it seemed like the Bulls might be opening a big lead, however, he came right back with two solo fastbreak layups to cut the lead back down to size. Vucevic was the big scorer in the quarter, earning 8 points to double his total to 16. Overall, Chicago’s lead expanded ball a small margin, 78-73.
Orlando kept it close in the fourth until Wade took over, hitting a 3-pointer, throwing an alley-oop, and nailing a tough floater to give Chicago their biggest lead yet, 88-79. The Magic would never recover from there, getting a few chances to cut into the lead but throwing them away with their poor shot selection, poor shooting on the open looks, and continuing turnover problems. With about 3 minutes left Vucevic made a few plays to try to drag the Magic back into it, pulling the 12-point game back within 8, but time was running out on the comeback. Payton managed to recover a loose ball and get fouled with 40 seconds left, down 6 with a chance to cut it to 4, but he missed both free throws, ending their chance at cutting the lead any closer.