The Bulls have had trouble all year with some bad home losses to sub-.500 teams, and yet another one occurred tonight as the Orlando Magic snapped a 6-game losing streak in their win at the United Center. The Bulls defense was just a trainwreck, giving up 121 points on nearly 60% shooting to the Magic.
The Magic were led by a 2-headed attack of Nikola Vucevic and Victor Oladipo, as they scored 33 points apiece. Vucevic started out the game hot with 12 first-qarter points on 6-8 shooting, hitting a couple jumpers and demonstrating very nice post moves against an isolated Pau Gasol. But the Magic were scoring inside as an entire team, using their speed on the pick and roll and in transition to attack in those ways as well. Orlando was committed to pushing the ball off of any Bulls miss or make, and made the Bulls look every bit the slower and older team they are. The Magic are not a good outside-shooting team, but even that part started to fall in the 2nd quarter from some unlikely bench contributors (did not know Willie Green was still in the league...) as they built a 15 point lead midway through the 2nd quarter.
One bright spot for the Bulls was the offensive play of Derrick Rose, back after a one-game absence and generally looking to attack in this game. Rose led a 2nd quarter run (even including the one bad pull-up three he made...he missed the other 4) to cut into the deficit but never catching the Magic.
The 3rd was then back to the Vucevic show, where he and Pau Gasol had an old-school post player duel. Gasol was doing his best to try and match, but he and the Bulls just couldn't stop the Magic for a long enough period of time. Vucevic scored his 30th point on this Pau-crushing dunk to end the 3rd period.
It was the main problem all game: Pau was left out on an island to try and contain Vucevic, and the strategy was rarely changed. The Bulls entered the 4th quarter down 15, and made their customary run when going to the bench bigs of Taj Gibson and Nikola Mirotic, the latter of which had this move on his way to 11 points (going 6-9 from the line).
This cut the deficit to 6, and Rose was starting to cook again as the midway point of the 4th quarter passed. But Mirotic only played in 11 minutes, as Thibodeau relied heavily on Gasol and a still-hurting Noah (who certainly was hustling but noticeably couldn't physically dominate Channing Frye) down the stretch.
And the result didn't change. Frye was 1-7 from three but the Bulls respected the threat he possessed, and so the Magic were able to space out and either post up Vucevic or run plays through Oladipo, who really shined down the stretch to finish with 11-17 shooting and hitting 3-4 from three.
It wasn't just Pau who was poor defensively, but he was definitely the one being targeted and the Bulls didn't adjust. Mirotic lost his man a couple times, Rose had difficulty handling Elfrid Peyton's speed, Butler was caught ball-watching and couldn't check Oladipo late, Hinrich and Snell (who alternated starting the half at the SG spot tonight) each looked a step slow, and Noah's relative lack of mobility is becoming a real concern. But Thibs didn't give his team a better chance by going back with his starting frontcourt late, as even though Pau finished with 28 points himself after his career-night over the weekend, he led a net-negative unit against a team that used their speed to kill.
Offense wasn't really a problem, as though they started the game wildly running into the lane, the 2nd half was much more fluid. In the 4th, the Bulls scored 36 points in their usual frenzied way, but could not get enough stops to ever fully rope Orlando in.