8:30 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago
Mexico City, Mexico; Arena Ciudad de Mexico
Besides Denzel Valentine being out for the year, the Chicago Bulls injury report is uncharacteristically clean. Though Jim Boylen is still going to bring Kris Dunn off the bench for some reason.
The Magic expect Jonathon Simmons to play tonight after battling a sprained right ankle the last few days. Evan Fournier is back with the team after missing Orlando’s game against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday for personal reasons.
Viva La Mexico
The NBA does a truly fantastic job of promoting itself as a global game and playing games in Mexico is obviously part of that.
New head coach Jim Boylen questioned the fitness level of his team last week, among a whole slew of crazy talking points, so does the altitude of Mexico City (7,382 feet; Denver is 1,609.3 feet) and thinner air that comes with that altitude suddenly become a huge factor in who wins this game?
The altitude has been a factor in the Magic's workouts here, players said. Evan Fournier said the altitude here is tougher to deal with than Denver's altitude.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) December 13, 2018
This is the third consecutive season that the NBA will play at least two games in Mexico (the other one is Saturday with the Magic staying and facing the Utah Jazz). The Bulls game tonight is the 27th all-time NBA game played in Mexico.
Throughout its existence, the NBA has hosted regular season games in Mexico, England, and Japan and preseason games in those three countries plus China, Brazil, Taipei, the Philippines, France, Spain, Germany, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Bahamas, and Italy.
The Magic are weirdly not-terrible?
We live in a world where the Denver Nuggets lead the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs are a .500 club and sit outside of the playoffs. The Houston Rockets have the second worst record in the Western Conference.
We also live in a world where the Orlando Magic are kind of good. Well, let’s asterisk that for a second. They are kind of good for an Eastern Conference team sitting at 12-15 and in the eighth spot in the playoff race, it’d be the first time they’ve made it to the postseason since 2011-2012. The Magic aren’t tanking competition for the Bulls this season. At least not yet. Good for them.
Nikola Vucevic has always played extremely well against the Chicago Bulls (16.4 points per game on 47.5 percent from the field, 9.5 rebounds).
This season though, he’s playing extremely well against everybody. The eighth-year center from Montenegro has career highs in points (20.6), field-goal percentage (54.1 percent), assists (3.7), and player efficiency rating (26.5). He’s expanded his game out to the 3-point line, shooting above 40 percent from that distance for the first time in his career (previous season high was 31.4 percent minimum 50 attempts). He is one of 14 players who has averaged a double-double this season.
Though speaking of their bigs, there was a missed opportunity when the Magic almost had a Bamba-Biyombo frontcourt, but then they decided to trade away Bismack Biyombo in July. The Magic’s marketing department could have had a field day with that. Well, at least we still have this gem for all of eternity.