It might actually, legitimately be time to worry about your Chicago Bulls.
Chicago dropped something of a “must-win” game Friday night: a home contest against a rebuilding young Orlando Magic roster missing two of its four top scorers. The final margin was just a one-point Orlando victory, 108-107, but the team again got off to a miserable start again, and the game wasn’t really particularly close until the end of the third quarter. Another masterful scoring turn from DeMar DeRozan wasn’t enough to save the Bulls from themselves as they took the lead after a frantic comeback only to give it back away in the final minute.
That’s when Jalen Suggs closed the Bulls out. Suggs drew a foul from Dosunmu and nailed both his free throws. With 12 seconds remaining and Chicago now leading by two, Nikola Vucevic (a 91.4% free-throw shooter this season heading into the game), was quickly fouled by Gary Harris out of a Bulls timeout. Stunningly, Vucevic missed both. Jalen Suggs burst out for a 26-foot step-back trey with five seconds left to give Orlando a one-point lead.
DeMar DeRozan only had enough time - the Bulls burned their last timeout a possession prior failing to get the ball inbounds - to force up a half-court heave in response.
With the defeat, Chicago has now lost its fourth consecutive contest, 1-6 in their last seven, and overall falling to a 6-10 record on the young season.
The night started off ominously, with the Bulls wearing their Miami Heat-cosplay “City Edition” jerseys. What happened to their black, blue and red Chicago flag-themed 2019-20 season City Edition threads, darn it?
And despite talk for weeks now of getting off to better starts, Orlando wasted no time running roughshod on Chicago. Two Magic players with annoying Bulls ties did the bulk of the damage in the first quarter. Ex-Bulls center Wendell Carter made an array of jumper and dunks to tally nine points and two assists, while second-year small forward Franz Wagner, whose 2021 draft rights were traded to Orlando as part of the Nikola Vucevic deal, had 10 points and five assists of his own. The Bulls, meanwhile, struggled to get inside and clunked a bunch of jumpers. The Magic led 37-24 at the end of the first frame.
In the second quarter, the Magic maintained a double-digit advantage for a while. The Bulls at one point got the margin within eight points thanks to a 7-0 run late in the period from an Ayo Dosunmu/Alex Caruso/Zach LaVine/DeMar DeRozan/Nikola Vucevic lineup (note which starter was absent). Ultimately, the suddenly-lethal tandem of Suggs and Carter helped Orlando pull away a bit at the end of the frame.
Zach had an especially brutal first half, going 1-for-11 and settling for jumpers that he left well short. The Bulls eventually made a point in the first half to spotlight the clutch bucket-getting of Vucevic. The 6’10” big man nabbed an 12-point, 10-rebound double-double prior by the end of the quarter. DeRozan, too, turned in an excellent first half, full of plenty footwork clinics like this excellent take:
Orlando’s lead ballooned to as much 19 in the third quarter as a very long Magic team gave an undersized Bulls club fits. 7’2” Bol Bol, earning the nod at starting power forward with No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero out (again, for emphasis: this was all without the top overall pick playing), exploited his size mismatch against Chicago counterparts Patrick Williams and DeMar DeRozan throughout the night.
Suggs, the fifth pick in 2021 who had a pretty miserable rookie season, enjoyed a pretty solid night on both ends of the court before his late game heroics. Check out his hops in getting up for this Vucevic block:
But the typical Bulls thing this season happened on the way to what was looking like a Magic blowout: they battled back late, thanks mostly to the heroic scoring efforts of one DeMar DeRozan. He helped power the Bulls to an 18-7 run to close out the third quarter, and a lineup of him + Ayo/LaVine/Green/Drummond helped Chicago rally back to ultimately tie the contest, 92-92, with 7:07 remaining in the fourth quarter.
DeMar is in some kind of mode tonight pic.twitter.com/qoZaoxFE6i— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) November 19, 2022
The Magic had turned the ball over five times in that span of the quarter.
There was a notable play during the following stretch where the Magic went out to a slight lead again: Vucevic passed the ball to a wide-open Patrick Williams near the corner, who unfortunately hesitated for too long, opted to try to drive late, and had two defenders collapse on him, forcing him to pass the ball out. DeMar DeRozan was visibly frustrated by Williams, and it was nice to see someone on the court finally express the way we all feel watching the guy. Williams had another low-usage, big-minutes night, scoring 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the floor and 4-of-4 shooting from the line, but frequently looking relatively out of sorts across 32 minutes of action.
Billy Donovan - who adjusted elsewhere in benching LaVine, more on that later - instantly subbed in Green, who quickly made a defensive impact by frustrating his cover, Wagner, around the paint. Vucevic, who had gone quiet offensively in the second half, finally started scoring a bit in the last three minutes of the period. DeRozan tied the game again at 103-103, with an 18-foot jumper at the 1:06 mark. In the very next possession, Wagner fouled out after tripping up Alex Caruso.
An 8-0 run courtesy of buckets from Caruso, DeRozan and Green got Chicago its biggest lead of the night, a four-point edge, with the score at 107-103. Check out this Javonte dunk on Carter for what would turn out to be Chicago’s final points:
It looked like the Bulls were going bail themselves out and get what should’ve been an easy win. But the good vibes were quickly dashed with the choking at the line and allowing the Suggs three-pointer.
The Bulls were led by DeRozan’s ‘41 points on 16-of-30 shooting from the floor (1-of-2 from deep!) and 8-of-9 shooting from the charity stripe. He registered a +13 plus-minus while (second-best on the team behind Green’s +17). Vucevic had 14 points (only four in the second half), 16 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and a steal. Though those numbers look fine, keep in mind that he shot 5-of-13 from the floor and essentially blew the game with those two missed free throws. Dosunmu scored 14 points on an efficient 6-of-8 shooting and turned in some typically gritty defense (he had three blocks and a steal).
The most concerning issue coming out of the night, beyond yet another poor start: Zach LaVine had one of his worst games ever. In 25 minutes, he scored just four points on 1-of-14 shooting from the field (he made two free throws) and posted a team-worst -19. After the game, LaVine took issue with Donovan’s (correct, IMO) call to sub him out in favor of Ayo Dosunmu down the stretch.
“Obviously, I have to do a better job at the beginning of the game. I gotta make my shots. But you play a guy like me down the stretch. That’s what I do. Do I like the decision? No. Do I gotta live with it? Yeah and be ready to put my shoes on and play the next game.”
“I’ve missed a lot of shots, man. But I’ve had a lot of games where I played terrible and in four to five minutes, I can get 15, 16 points. I just wasn’t able to shoot the next shot.”
Once again, Chicago was on the losing end of the three-point shooting battle. The Magic shot 12-of-28 (42.9%) from long range, while the Bulls made just 5-of-21 (23.8%). The victorious Magic - moving to 5-11 on the season- had three players in Suggs, Wagner, and Carter score 20 points or more. Bol Bol finished with a 15-point, 10-rebound double double.
This losing streak could get out of hand soon, as the Bulls are looking at the Celtics and Bucks next week.