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Magic vs. Bulls preview: Struggling Magic face dysfunctional Bulls in Mexico City

The Magic host the first of two contests in Mexico City, and Magic fans get their first look at a Markkanen/Carter frontcourt

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic find themselves in a free fall in the Eastern Conference standings. The Magic briefly held a tenuous hold on the fifth-seed before dropping their last three games, and seven of their previous ten contests overall.

True, the Magic’s slate as of late has been quite brutal, but the Magic simply fell flat in their two previous contests against the depleted Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks.

The Magic can’t afford to look ahead, as two of the next three contests come against the Utah Jazz and San Antonio Spurs.

But through the mists of Mexico City, comes the Magic’s knight in shining armor, the Chicago Bulls.

The Bulls have become the laughingstock of the NBA in 2018. After firing Fred Hoiberg for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, the Bulls promoted Jim Boylan, and if you haven’t been privy to the latest happenings, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

The Bulls (6-22) hold the second-worst record in the NBA, and are fresh off both a franchise-worst loss (56 points), as well as the now infamous “moo-tiny” in which players refused a grueling practice the morning of their second night of back-to-backs.

Our friends at chronicle the recent events here. If you don’t follow the Twitter account, you really should. They’ve been piecing together quotes made by Boylen creating quite the speculation as to the truth behind his comments.

Boylen has since recanted the since leaked information, but none of the situations is pretty, and the Magic enter the fray with a shiny red cape, and the opportunity to get back in the win column (if just for a night).

The Chicago Bulls are still an NBA team, however, and carry one of the 2018 NBA Draft’s most impressive products in Wendell Carter. The young man possesses near-elite level footwork and instincts, carrying comparisons to Boston’s Al Horford.

He has since been joined by Lauri Markkanen, the seventh overall seven-footer from one year ago. Markkanen had previously been held out due to a sprained elbow and has missed all but five of their 28 contests.

The Bulls have been a net-negative this year with newly-signed Zach LaVine (24 points per game, -6.6), and Jabari Parker (16 points per game, -6.3), but the Bulls get a huge lift to their depth chart with the availability of Kris Dunn and Bobby Portis, who each returned in limited action Monday night against the Sacramento Kings.

The Bulls would lose the contest by 19 with a season-high 27 turnovers, but the aggressive play of Dunn and Portis was a welcome sight. Joined by Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez, the group of Carter, Markkanen, Dunn, LaVine, Portis, and Parker holds NBA-level talent, even promising talent in spurts, and the Magic will have to go back to their style of basketball to earn what should be an easy victory.

The Bulls are near the bottom in every major offensive category, including dead-last in points per game (101.8). They are 30th in Offensive Rating (100.6), 22nd in defensive rating (111.6), and 11th in pace (100.1). The Magic suffer similar struggles offensively (26th), but have improved defensively to eighth in the NBA in points allowed, 15th in rating.

Wins don’t come any easier than this, though the Magic will face unfamiliar surroundings as they look around their ‘home’ arena in Mexico City. But the Magic appear to be focused and ready to get back to their winning ways.

‘We can be tourists in the summer,” Nikola Vucevic said. “But for now it’s important for us to focus on these next two games and play better as a team.”