10 Observations: Bulls slump continues with Magic loss originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
For at least another six or eight weeks, Lonzo Ball won’t walk through that door. Neither did Alex Caruso.
But the Chicago Bulls (28-17) must find a way to snap their current streak, which continued with a humiliating 114-95 loss to the now-Magic 9-39 in Orlando on Sunday.
With the loss, the Bulls have lost seven of their last nine games and have dropped to third place in the Eastern Conference behind the Nets (29-16) and Heat (30-17). Just 1.5 games separated them from the sixth-seeded 76ers, and 2.5 from the seventh-seeded Hornets.
Here are 10 observations:
one. Moe Wagner was the player of the game, so that’s where we started. With Mo Bamba falling into foul trouble early on, Wagner played 25 minutes and seized the opportunity, scoring a team-high 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
But more than numbers are required to sum up Wagner’s impact. His energy was transformative on the rim runs and the defensive end, where he drew multiple charges. Lacking several critical energy types, primarily Caruso and Javonte Green, the Bulls had no answer.
two. Wagner led an Orlando bench charge that scored 31 points at halftime and 51 late in the game. The Bulls’ depleted rotation mustered just 10 bench points and needed garbage time to get there.
3. DeMar DeRozan did everything he could to cheer the Bulls on this one. He scored 10 of the team’s 19 points in the first quarter and had 20 of his 37 at halftime on 8-of-10 shooting. The rest of the team had 17 points on 7-for-26 shooting at the last moment.
But DeRozan really heated up in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 points to keep the deficit between 10 and 15 as the Magic continued to apply pressure offensively. His shooting — and foul-stealing as he attempted double-digit free throws for the 13th time this season — was the only thing keeping the Bulls afloat. Eventually, they sank, fouling his season-high 41-point (15-of-21) outburst.
Four. The Bulls need more consistency from Nikola Vučević going into what could be an extremely lopsided streak of a month or two. He took a higher volume of post touches against the Magic, making 19 shots, but made only four of them and committed five turnovers to boot. Two of those giveaways came in a particularly grueling stretch early in the fourth quarter, when Wagner attacked him for back-to-back possessions. Billy Donovan burned down his coach’s challenge in a failed attempt to nullify the second.
Vučević returned to the game later in the fourth, but eventually fouled out at 3:30 when he contested a Franz Wagner layup. Vučević has had big nights when the Bulls have needed him (see: Celtics loss and Cavaliers win), but on this one, he shot poorly and was routinely attacked on the defensive end. A tough game that saw him show visible frustration multiple times, and his season-long field goal percentage dropped to a career-low 43.1.
Donovan cited early foul trouble as a contributing factor in Vučević’s difficulties. But the Bulls center was blunt in his self-assessment.
“Shooting is part of the game. I was disappointed more with my defensive approach, some of the things I’ve been pretty good at so far this year: cutting back, pumping traps, not being in the right positions on pick- and-roll, stuff like that. Just more things that I can control no matter if I shoot 100 percent or miss everything,” he said. “There are so many ways I can impact the game, and he just didn’t bring the energy and focus that I needed to help us win the game. I think that affected my shooting in a way as well.”
5. However, he went deeper than a player. This was a largely fortuitous effort on both ends. Offensively, the Bulls notched a season-low 10 assists and a whopping 22 turnovers, and didn’t reach the double-digit dime mark until garbage time. Defensively, they allowed the NBA’s 28th-ranked offense to come into the game to score 114 points while shooting 52.5 percent. Sixty of those points came in the paint, a testament to the Bulls’ inability to contain dribble penetration or protect the rim.
6. Caruso and Ball were certainly missed in the latter department (dribbling penetration), and also in the wreaking havoc category. The Bulls matched a season low with three steals and scored just one fast break point, both of which have generally been boons to their identity at both ends.
7. And Ball and LaVine were sorely missed in terms of shooting. Those two combine to take 14.6 3-pointers per game and shoot 42.3 percent (Ball) and 41.2 percent (LaVine) on those attempts, respectively, to carry nearly half the load toward the 38-per-game 3-point accuracy rate. Bulls NBA-leading percent as a team (with 30.1 attempts per game, the NBA low).
After shooting a woeful 7-for-38 from behind the arc against Milwaukee, the Bulls’ first sub-20 percent 3-point shooting game of the season, they went 5-for-21 from deep in Orlando. That’s 12-for-59 (20.3 percent) in his last two games. Coby White, who shot 1-for-7 on Sunday, will lean there but is now 1-for-16 from 3 in his last two games.
8. Even when the Bulls traded blows early in the game, the team’s discomfort was evident. Twice in the first half, the players, DeRozan and Vučević, threw balls out of bounds and incurred game warning delays, leading the Magic to be awarded a technical free throw (which they missed). Widespread defensive lapses that led to Orlando’s easy layups and dunks added to that picture.
9. As Donovan noted after the game, White and Ayo Dosunmu combined for zero of the team’s 10 assists. White scored 22 points on 8-of-18 shooting, but back-to-back tough games for the starting backcourt duo, who were created by injuries and have logged plenty of minutes of late, is heartbreaking. Donovan said before the game that LaVine (and Green) will face the Bulls in Oklahoma City on Monday and could be available against the Thunder, which would be a huge boost.
10 Wendell Carter Jr. really enjoys pairing up with the Bulls, who traded him to Orlando as part of the Vučević trade last February. Carter Jr. entered the game averaging 22 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in three career games against the Bulls (two this season, one last). On Sunday he scored 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.
Next up for the Bulls: at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism