The second night of a home and home with the Bulls provided Orlando a chance to inch their way back up the standings against a similarly placed team. It was not to be, however, with Evan Fournier’s late scratching due to back spasms an ill omen of things to come. The short-handed Magic were comfortably blown out by a sweet-shooting Chicago outfit, falling 118-92 and becoming the first Bulls opponent of the season to not hit triple figures.
From the outset it was clear that Chicago had a new plan to stop Nikola Vucevic, fresh off posting his career-high against a side that had no answers for his offensive skill set in the last contest. They consistently switched any pick and roll situation with the big man, staying attached whenever he popped to the perimeter and gambling on hard doubles whenever he had a mismatch in the post. Despite this attention Vooch still found a way to get going, generating a pair of free throw attempts by attacking the rim and taking advantage of trail opportunities to get the three-ball up. His 5 early points allowed the Magic to go to the game’s first time out leading 13-11.
Things gummed up a little for Orlando after that, with the team missing a handful of chances close to the hoop that allowed the Bulls to rattle off 8 straight and seize the ascendancy. Cole Anthony helped to stem the tide with a pair of plays — a nice find of a rolling Vooch before an opportunistic steal sprung Dwayne Bacon on the break — before a late Terrence Ross explosion of 9 points helped the Magic lock things back up with the opening quarter nearing a close. 31 apiece is where it would stay, a late block party courtesy of Chuma Okeke and Khem Birch making that certain.
The second quarter was a discombobulated affair, with some clunky offense and disconnected defense clogging the game up somewhat. Turnovers and tough shots plagued both sides, but it was the Bulls who managed to snap out of it first. They built a 12 point lead primarily on the back of buckets by Zach LaVine and Denzel Valentine, taking advantage of a disorganized Magic side stretched thin by injuries. It was 49-37 when the teams went to another timeout with 5:21 remaining in the period, some ominous signs for Orlando becoming apparent.
Some incisive play from Anthony steadied things momentarily, but shooting woes continued to haunt the Magic. Ross and Vucvic both missed wide open triples, while James Ennis couldn’t get a point blank putback to go. An Anthony turnover on an entry pass to Vooch resulted in a LaVine dunk at the other end, ballooning the deficit to 15. After Ennis got a late pair of free throws to go it was LaVine again who took over, drilling a difficult three before closing the half with a swooping finish in the lane. It was the exclamation mark on a 25-8 Chicago run, a burst that pushed their advantage to 18 and sent the Magic into the locker room down 61-43.
The story of the first half was shooting accuracy. Chicago converted at a clip of 50.0% from the field across the first two quarters, compared to just 34.9% for the Magic. LaVine was the primary destroyer, compiling a personal haul of 22 on efficient 10-15 shooting. The Bulls had also beaten Orlando up inside, accumulating 28 points in the paint while restricting the Magic to a paltry 10. Unless these factors turned around it would be an incredibly tough hill for the players in pinstripes to climb.
Vucevic did all he could in the opening stages of the third quarter to get the Magic back into the contest. He had the team’s first 6 points of the period, scoring in a variety of ways against his immediate match up. However, there was little offensive support coming from elsewhere, and LaVine and Coby White were able to continue stretching Chicago’s advantage. It was 25 when Steve Clifford called a desperate time out less than four minutes into the quarter, and it was 33 less than two minutes after that. White and LaVine were basically unstoppable during the stretch, combining for 19 points and missing just one shot as the game was blown wide open.
Anthony added some measure of respect to things with a thunderous hammer in the lane followed by a long bomb moments later, but it was only a temporary salve. The Bulls kept things ticking over, scoring with relative ease and doing enough to frustrate a limp Orlando offense as they compiled a 95-64 lead at the final break.
Really, the only fourth quarter question for Magic fans was whether or not we would see Mo Bamba get an extended run. Coach Clifford obliged immediately, opening the period with Orlando’s young big man anchoring the middle. Bamba got moving immediately, piling up 10 quick points on a series of close range finishes and a smooth mid-range jumper. He and Frank Mason, Orlando’s recent roster addition to the depleted back court, flashed some decent chemistry in the two-man game, finishing a pair of alley-oops and navigating each other’s presence effectively.
It was admittedly low intensity basketball at the culmination of a game long decided, but there’s some encouragement to be found in Bamba’s late cameo. 14 points on 7-8 shooting, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks and an assist is a good night’s work for any reserve center, let alone a personal tally reached in just 12 minutes. There’s still what feels like a plodding lethargy to some of his sequences, particularly when transitioning from one end of the court to the other, but this performance was a timely reminder that the Magic need to figure out what exactly their recent lottery pick can be in this league.
When the dust settled it was 118-92, a comprehensive dusting of an inaccurate and under-strength Magic squad.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Mo Bamba — it may have been garbage time but the Bamba-led bench squad forced the Bulls to reinsert LaVine into a game long after his services should have been required. A small, moral victory for the Magic’s forgotten man. #FreeBamba.
Second star: Cole Anthony — look, he got absolutely roasted defensively during the stretch when the game was ultimately decided, but he was one of Orlando’s only players who looked to have a heartbeat at times tonight.
Third star: Nikola Vucevic — was quiet by his recent lofty standards, but Vooch is being asked to do the job of a titan just to keep the Magic in any given contest. He’s still an All-Star on anyone’s ballot.
Tonight’s loss sees the Magic slip to 9-15 on the season, a record good for just 12th in the East. They’ll look to get back in the winner’s circle on Tuesday against Dame Lillard and the Trailblazers.