The Magic went south of the border and took care of business, as they ended their losing streak with a 97-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls in Mexico City.
Although they were playing the worst team in the Eastern Conference - and a team that has been a national punchline the last few days after a near mutiny - the much-needed win did not come easy.
Early on, the Magic struggled offensively, like they did it their previous two games, as the Bulls built a six-point lead in the first. Towards the end of the quarter, Orlando began to play with more energy, chipped away and pulled within two after one. That was thanks in part to this Terrence Ross block in the closing seconds...
T-R SS pic.twitter.com/2DqkIRZ7qE— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 14, 2018
The Magic opened the second quarter on a 15-3 run, capped by back-to-back threes by D.J. Augustin, to take a 39-29 lead with 7:19 remaining in the half. After the Magic took an 11-point lead after a three by Vucevic with 2:08 remaining, Orlando (as they have done somwhat regularly this season) failed to close the quarter strong. The Bulls closed on a 10-4 run, with a Bobby Portis three with 14 seconds left pulling the Bulls within 51-46 at the break.
After the Bulls pulled even at 56 less than three minutes into the second half, Aaron Gordon made his first field goals of the game by hitting a three and converting a tip for a 58-53 Magic lead that would soon grow to eight. But again, the Magic were unable to pull away, as the Bulls cut the lead to two with just over two minutes left in the third. Jonathon Simmons and Mo Bamba then responded with back-to-back threes, helping to send the Magic into the fourth with a 77-71 lead.
La Bamba pic.twitter.com/afx5HrTBfQ— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 14, 2018
The Magic were held scoreless for the first 4:37 of the fourth as the Bulls opened the quarter on a 10-0 run to take an 81-77 lead. Ross made a pair of free throws to end the drought, and Evan Fournier hit a floater for the Magic’s first field goal of the quarter with 6:22 left to tie it at 81.
A straightaway three by Vucevic gave the Magic an 86-83 lead with just over five minutes left. The Bulls regained the lead after a jumper by LaVine and a three by Justin Holiday for an 88-86 advantage with 4:09 to go. A Vucevic hook shot in the post evened the score at 88.
Vucevic later hit a contested step-back jumper with 1:15 left for 91-88 lead. Lauri Markkanen then hit a three with 1:06 left to tie it. An illegal screen against Vucevic with 45.4 remaining gave the ball back to the Bulls, but Chicago gave it right back after Augustin drew an offensive foul on Kris Dunn with 33.7 seconds to go.
Out of a timeout, Fournier found Vucevic for the pick-and-pop and he drained a wide-open 15-footer with 28.1 seconds left to give the Magic a 93-91 lead.
MAGIC WIN!@NikolaVucevic hits the go-ahead bucket with 28.8 seconds left!#PureMagic | #NBAenMéxico pic.twitter.com/I6UypUgJhL— Orlando Magic (@OrlandoMagic) December 14, 2018
Augustin then hit two free throws with 9.9 seconds left to seal it as the Magic, who had lost three straight and five of their last seven, picked up a much-needed victory.
Vucevic finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds, Augustin had 15 points and seven rebounds, and Fournier and Jonathan Isaac each added 10 points. Mo Bamba, coming off his one-game suspension, had eight points and six rebounds in 15 minutes.
Gordon shot just 2-for-11 and finished with eight points and was on the bench late in the game. The Magic, who improved to 13-15, shot just 41.5 percent from the field, but got to the line more than usual, making 18 of 23 attempts.
LaVine had 23 points and Holiday had 18 for the Bulls, who shot 47.9 percent from the field, including 10 of 18 from three. The Bulls, losers of 10 of 11 games, are now 6-23.
The Magic complete their two-game Mexico City set on Saturday when they play the Utah Jazz.