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Bulls Beat Magic 126-115, Claim Sole Possession of First Place in the East

The Bulls found themselves in difficult spots at times but ultimately prevailed over the Magic to claim the top spot in the East.

DeMar DeRozan Dunk Bulls Magic
Photo: ChicagoBulls/Twitter

The Chicago Bulls hosted the Orlando Magic Tuesday night at the United Center. It was not a defensive showcase by any definition. Instead, the two teams traded buckets over and over again throughout the course of the game. Each time it seemed like the Bulls would pull away, the Magic would storm back to keep it close.

At the end of a night that felt too close for comfort, the Bulls ended up taking home the victory 126-115. DeMar DeRozan led the way with 29 points and 10 rebounds, Zach LaVine had 26 and five of his own, Nikola Vucevic had 18 and 13, and Ayo Dosunmu paced the Bulls with nine assists.

The Setup

The Bulls more or less limped out of January with an 8-8 record, though they did end on a high note by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 130-116. Even so, the Bulls needed to get off to a hot start in February to maintain their place among the Eastern Conference elite.

It may have seemed like an easy task against the Magic because Orlando is 11-40 on the season, but the Magic blew the Bulls out of the water by a score of 114-95 a week ago. Although the Bulls came into the game sitting on top of the conference, they very much needed to start February off by not losing to the worst team in the NBA.

The Summary

Quarter One

The game kicked off on a sour note. Orlando got out to a quick 5-0 run thanks to little hustle from the Bulls to get back defensively. After a patented early-game timeout so the Bulls could get their act together, things started improving. Vucevic decided to take control against his former team on defense and the boards. He affected shots, swatted one away, had six points, and corralled four rebounds.

LaVine paced the scoring for Chicago. He got to the foul line, hit a three, then channeled his inner DeMar DeRozan with a bank shot. Soon after, Wendell Carter Jr. gifted us with hitting an easy rebound out of bounds, and LaVine capitalized on it with another bank shot to put the Bulls up 11-9.

Speaking of Carter Jr., he really seems to turn his game up a notch when playing the team that traded him away. He made Vucevic look silly a couple of times and came away with 11 points in the first quarter. The Magic kept the scoring going and generated a 7-0 run to push the score to 25-20 before Vucevic’s hook ended the Bulls’ scoring drought. After the Magic continued to extend their lead, DeRozan single-handedly led a Bulls’ 8-0 run to end the quarter with the Bulls leading 34-33.

Quarter Two

DeMar DeRozan wasted no time getting the second quarter started by throwing down a thunderous dunk.

The Bulls seemed to have a reinvigorated effort defensively, too. They did a better job staying with their matchups and forcing the Magic into tougher shots. Plus, when you have a Rising Star like Ayo Dosunmu dropping no-look dimes, it’s clear the Bulls are operating better.

Throughout the second, the Bulls consistently hovered around a six-point lead. There were tons of offensive and defensive highlights for the Bulls, but they were often paired with simple defensive lapses, like–you know—not guarding players with the ball, that kept Orlando close.

As the quarter progressed, it was clear both DeRozan and LaVine were feeling their games offensively. DeRozan ended the half with 20 points, and LaVine had 17. Add in the fact that Dosunmu had seven assists and no turnovers, and a couple of very questionable technical fouls on the Magic, you get a 70-63 halftime lead for the Bulls.

Quarter Three

I’m cool if the Bulls want to start off every quarter with a huge dunk. This time, it was Javonte Green raising up off Dosunmu’s eighth assist.

However, the Bulls’ defensive struggles continued. Just a few minutes into the quarter, the Magic were already in the bonus. It didn’t take long for the game to really tighten up once more. All it took was a Jalen Suggs wide-open three and a Wendell Carter Jr. cherry-picked dunk to bring the Magic within three at 78-75.

With 5:57 left in the third quarter, LaVine hit two free throws to bring him to 21 points on the night. With DeRozan already over 20, it marks yet another game where both stars scored 20 in the same game. Still, no matter how much the Bulls scored, the Magic wouldn’t go away.

Orlando hustled like crazy, and—led by Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner, and Carter Jr.—they continued to get buckets to stay in the game. Then, the ever-steady DeRozan casually hit a step-back jumper at the end of the quarter to send the Bulls to the final frame with a 103-94 lead.

Quarter Four

Coby White converted on a boring layup to start the quarter, even when I explicitly said I wanted them to start every quarter with a dunk. Whatever, Coby. During the quarter, the Magic spent more time at the free-throw line than they had all game. Credit to them for noticing the quick whistles and being aggressive with attacking the basket. It kept them in the contest, leading to a 10-0 run at one point that tied the game.

The Magic started flying around defensively, and the Bulls did what they usually do when that happens: panic. Players were getting trapped, turning the ball over, and forcing up awful shot attempts. Carter Jr., meanwhile, continued his stretch of dominance against the Bulls. He locked down LaVine on drives several times, and he posted a final stat line of 24 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. The Bulls went four straight minutes without a field goal before LaVine finished a tough layup to put the Bulls up 117-115.

The saving grace was the Magic deciding fair is fair and also not scoring for a long stretch. They even went above and beyond by not scoring throughout the final 5:34 of the game. Some clutch buckets from DeRozan and Dosunmu brought the Bulls back up, and they never looked back. Final score: 126-115.

What’s On Tap Next?

The Bulls have Wednesday off as they travel to Toronto for a Thursday night matchup against the Raptors. You can catch that game at 6:30 PM CT on NBC Sports Chicago. As always, stick with us here at Bulls On Tap for all your Bulls news and needs.

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Bulls and Cubs Writer for OnTapSportsNet. Author of Extraordinary Girl, available on Amazon and at other select retailers.

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