The Bulls almost pulled off an incredible tank job on Monday night at the United Center. After going up by 18 points on a similarly bad Magic squad with 8:23 to play, the Bulls completely unraveled. With the Bulls tossing up bricks and turning the ball over against increased pressure, the Magic went on a 23-3 run to take a two-point lead.
Bobby Portis calmed the storm with five straight points (with an Evan Fournier 3-pointer sandwiched in there) before both teams vomited all over themselves over the next two-plus minutes. Nobody scored over this stretch after Portis’ 3-pointer. The Magic even had a chance to win the game, but then this happened:
Mario Hezonja (who had a nice game with 24 points) then air-balled a looooong 3-pointer and Zach LaVine iced the game at the line to give the Bulls a 105-101 win.
LaVine had himself a roller coaster of a game. After a somewhat slow shooting start, he turned it on and played really well for much of the night. He had some impressive finishes on drives to the basket, and he didn’t force up many bad shots. He also did a nice job getting others involved by handing out five assists.
But LaVine was also horrible during the Magic’s furious rally. He really struggled against Orlando’s ball pressure, committing several turnovers and nearly committing a few more. He also missed a pair of jumpers in those ugly final couple minutes before playing the “hero” with the final four points.
LaVine’s final line looks pretty solid: 18/7/5 on 7-of-16 shooting and a game-best plus-16. So, pretty good overall, but we saw some of his current limitations as a primary ballhandler against pressure.
Lauri Markkanen led the Bulls with 21 points and eight rebounds, though he missed all six of his 3-point attempts and was very quiet down the stretch. Markkanen feasted early down low against significant mismatches in the post, with the smaller Magic lineup often turning to Hezonja to guard him. The Bulls did a good job finding him down there, with a handful of nice high-low actions.
Portis was the other standout for the Bulls. He had 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists off the bench. He got up 17 shots in 26 minutes, making eight of them, and for a while there it felt like he was shooting on nearly every touch. Given some of the Bulls’ bench lineups ... sometimes you can’t blame him.
Denzel Valentine also scored in double figures off the bench (11 points), and he even recorded the first dunk of his NBA career. Yes, the first:
First dunk of Valentine's NBA career! pic.twitter.com/vfAuNzSVr3— Stephen Noh (@StephNoh) February 13, 2018
Congrats to Denzel on this momentous achievement.
As for this result ... it’s bittersweet. It’s always nice to see young guys making big plays like LaVine did, but the Bulls were so bad down the stretch they really deserved to lose. It just so happens that the Magic are just as bad and couldn’t help but screw up in their own fashion.
The Bulls are now 20-36, No. 8 in the lottery standings and 1.5 games clear of the next team below them in the mess that’s the bottom of the standings. The Knicks are also coming on fast, losers of seven straight and sitting at 23-35.
The Bulls have one game left before the All-Star break, at home Wednesday against the Raptors. Maybe Cristiano Felicio will actually see some minutes in that game. He hasn’t played since the trade deadline.