After a fourteen-point loss to the Detroit Pistons on Monday, the Bulls traveled to Orlando to take on the struggling Magic, who had lost three out of their last five games. Dwyane Wade remained out with a thigh injury. Judging their performances against teams with losing records this season, you could assume the Bulls were in for a fight. For Orlando, starting center Nikola Vucevic sat out with soreness in his Achilles. Bismack Biyombo started in his place.
Robin Lopez and Biyombo faced each other at center in an empty Amway Center, with Lopez winning the tip. With no Vucevic, the Bulls certainly had an opportunity to capitalize on the boards. Orlando went with a small lineup, which allowed the Bulls to get many offensive rebounds.
The beginning of the first quarter started out normal. Both teams were trading baskets and were trying to establish momentum. However, it was easy to tell that these are two teams that are not among the NBA’s elite. Orlando began the game shooting 30 percent from the floor, while the Bulls were at 45 percent. With under six minutes to play in the first, the Bulls led 11-10 with Jimmy Butler leading the team in scoring, and four of the five starters registering points. Orlando was doing a good job “breaking out” and getting good shots, but they were not putting the ball in the hoop. Biyombo started out the game 0-5, with essentially three wide open short-distance jump shots. The Bulls took advantage of Orlando’s mistakes offensively, as they jumped out on a 6-0 run to end the quarter. At the end of the quarter, they led 22-19.
The bench squad for both sides stepped onto the floor to begin the second quarter. Orlando threw out the likes of D.J. Augustin, former Bull C.J. Watson, and Jeff Green. The Bulls had their usual secondary group on the floor, with the likes of Christiano Felicio, Rajon Rondo, and Denzel Valentine. However, it was newcomer Joffrey Lauvergne that got things going for the Bulls. Lauvergne had seven points in six minutes of play, helping push the Bulls’ lead to six at the 9:30 mark. Surprisingly, the Bulls kept this momentum going, and after a Cameron Payne three, they extended their lead to ten with just over seven minutes to play in the half. However, we’ve come to know these Bulls don’t disappoint. Immediately after they went on an 8-0 run, Orlando cut the lead back to six at the 6:30 mark. Fred Hoiberg took a timeout at that time, and it proved to be a good use of one. While we can’t necessarily decide what stops momentum, this certainly helped the Bulls. They pushed their lead back to nine at the 3:00 mark, hoping to make it larger heading into the half. The Bulls (somewhat) extended their lead at the half, mainly due to their unselfish play. At halftime, the Bulls had fifteen assists and were shooting 50 percent from the floor. They led 53-43 at the half after Jimmy Butler hit a step-back buzzer beater. Butler led the Bulls in scoring with thirteen points and registered six assists as well.
The third quarter started out well for the Bulls. Their strong offense continued, as they jumped out to a thirteen-point lead three minutes into the quarter. The score was 62-49. It seemed like the Bulls were going to blow this game wide open. They were doing enough defensively, and they were sharing the basketball well on the offensive end. However, after Jimmy Butler found Robin Lopez for a short jumper that gave the Bulls their thirteen-point lead, Orlando found life. The Bulls sharing of the basketball stopped. If you have watched the Bulls this season, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. The belief that Jimmy Butler must do everything goes into the minds of all the Bulls’ players, and everything that was going well stops. The Magic went on a 9-0 run in the middle part of the quarter, giving them new life. This run allowed Orlando to just get in striking distance, and they eventually tied the game at 77 after Evan Fournier made a three off a Jeff Green assist. The Magic outscored the Bulls 34-24 in the quarter.
The Bulls and the Magic started out the fourth slowly. In the first five minutes, the Magic shot three out of 10 from the floor, and the Bulls had not made a shot in the quarter at that point. All their points (four) came from the free through line. The Bulls offensive struggles continued throughout the quarter. With under four minutes to play in the game, the Bulls had nine points in the quarter. Against a team that is at best, an average defensive side, you can’t be putting up nine points in eight minutes of play. Frustrations continued for the Bulls, as the Magic capitalized on poor shots and lazy defense from the Bulls. The entire second half was just a summary of the Bulls’ season. You get spurts of hope and good play, and then it all comes spiraling down for unexplained reasons. The final score, in case you couldn’t tell from the tone of this piece, went in favor of the Magic (98-91).
As I watched more and more of this game, I had a clear idea of what was going to happen. I don’t know why the Bulls get in this phase, but it seems that they can’t consistently play good basketball for 48 minutes. It makes no sense to ditch the unselfish method if it is working. How do you go from having 15 assists in the first half to just nine in the second half? This game was no different than any other Bulls game this year. It gave you all kinds of emotions, and eventually just left you frustrated.
The Bulls are back at it Friday night at the United Center to take on James Harden and the Houston Rockets.