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Bulls Continue Bad Habits, Lose to Lowly Magic

The Bulls' late push wasn't enough to overcome a sluggish early effort in Wednesday night's loss to the Magic.
Nikola Vucevic Bulls

Photo: ChicagoBulls/Twitter

The Setup

The Bulls entered Wednesday's contest looking to snap a three-game losing streak and regain some positive momentum down the home stretch. As of now, they remain in the tenth spot in the Eastern Conference, the last seed to qualify for the NBA Playoffs play-in tournament, and sit just 1.5 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors.

The team is operating with a new-look lineup in recent weeks, having added Daniel Theis from Boston, Troy Brown Jr. from Washington, and Nikola Vucevic, who faced his former Orlando teammates in Wednesday's matchup. With so many new pieces, it's apparent the team is still working out some of the kinks.

Vucevic is the only starter of the three, but both Theis and Brown are playing significant minutes as reserves. Theis came off the bench to score 18 points in Monday's loss while Brown finished with just two points but grabbed eight rebounds.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was disappointed with the team's defense in his postgame press conference Sunday after Chicago had given up 120 and 121 points in back-to-back defeats. For a team that allows 113 points per game (ranking 20th in the NBA), the concern is valid and something which they'll need to figure out if they want to be taken seriously in the postseason.

But the biggest point of contention is finding a way to achieve more consistency. The Bulls are 0-8 on the season when they score fewer than 100 points. On Monday against Memphis, they shot just 5-of-31 from beyond the 3-point arc and managed only 14 points in the fourth quarter.

On Wednesday, the Bulls went up against some familiar faces in Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr., both of whom were sent to Orlando in the Vucevic trade. The latter didn't suit up and is set to miss his seventh straight contest because of a sore left foot. In his first ten games, Vucevic has 218 points, fifth-most in franchise history, to go with 5 double-doubles.

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Bulls Come Out Flat, Play Down to Their Competition (Again)

At this point, Bulls fans have to feel as if they're trapped in a time loop, watching their team get outplayed early in games on a nightly basis. The Bulls were completely out of sync in the first half, turning the ball over eight times as Orlando ran circles around them to the tune of an astounding 57.9% shooting from the field and 50% from downtown.

The only thing keeping the Bulls in the game was their production from long range, as the home team made 11 threes, four of which came from Vucevic (57.9%). The former Orlando center led the way for Chicago with 16 points and six rebounds in the first half.

Zach LaVine struggled to get going, scoring only nine points while Patrick Williams added eight of his own. Besides Vucevic, the only other Bull to record double figures was Daniel Theis with ten. Nevertheless, Chicago scored seven consecutive points in the last 90 seconds of the second quarter, highlighted by a Vucevic three-pointer at the buzzer, and somehow went into the break down only one, 54-53.

It Got Worse Until it Got Better (But Was it Too Late?)

It was more of the same for the Bulls early in the second half as the Magic continued to out-hustle the home team. After three quarters, Orlando had a 15-3 advantage in second-chance points and were outscoring the Bulls 44-24 in the paint. On a night where LaVine decided he didn't feel like shooting (0 FG attempts in the third quarter), Vucevic did everything he could to keep his team in the game, with 27 points heading into the fourth.

Nevertheless, at the start of the final frame, the Magic enjoyed a 21-point lead, their largest advantage of the night, facilitated by a 22-6 run to end the previous quarter. With seven minutes left, the Bulls, led by a revitalized LaVine, finally decided they were going to make a game of it, going on a 23-7 run to cut the deficit to six.

LaVine scored 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter but ultimately the Bulls' inability to protect the ball came back to bite them once again, as costly turnovers down the stretch allowed Orlando to regain a double-digit lead. The Bulls would go on to lose by a final of 115-106, falling ten games below .500 for the first time this year.

What's On Tap Next?

The Bulls welcome the Grizzlies to the United Center on Friday night. Chicago lost to Memphis on Monday by a final of 101-90 and will look to even the season series. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 PM CT. The game will air on NBC Sports Chicago Plus and 670 The Score. As always, you can check out all the latest Bulls content, articles, podcasts, and more at Bulls On Tap.