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Bulls Struggle to Contain Nikola Vucevic in Loss to Magic

The Bulls dropped the opener of a two-game set against the Orlando Magic on Friday night.
Bulls Magic

Photo: John Raoux/Associated Press

The Summary

The Bulls dropped their second straight game on Friday night as they fell 123-119 to the Orlando Magic.

The Bulls started the game trailing 18-4 in the early going but went on an 11-0 run to keep things close, and they continued to battle all game long. However, the Bulls struggled defensively, especially against Nikola Vucevic, who scored a career-high 43 points to accompany 18 rebounds.

The majority of the game saw the Magic by approximately ten points, but the Bulls were able to fight back and even tie the game at one point in the fourth quarter. However, they just weren't able to pull it out after a couple of defensive mistakes and missed opportunities. To add to the list of problems, Lauri Markkanen also exited Friday night's game with a sprained right shoulder, only adding to Chicago's injury woes.

The Setup

Both teams came into this game looking to bounce back after losses in their previous games. The Bulls dropped their last game on Wednesday against the New York Knicks, while the Magic came in on the heels of a three-game losing streak. This contest marked the first of a back-to-back set against the Magic, and the Bulls were looking to put forward a strong effort.

For the Bulls, Wendell Carter Jr. remained out for his seventh consecutive game while Otto Porter Jr. missed his second straight game as he nurses a back injury. For the Magic, their roster remained mostly healthy coming into this game with the exception of Aaron Gordon, who is dealing with an ailment of his own.

The Bulls recently split a series against the Knicks in which the two games were rather close, so they brought a bit of confidence into Friday night's matchup against the Magic. All eyes were on Zach LaVine and Lauri Markannen, both of whom were expected to continue their strong play of late.

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Poor Defensive Showing

The story of the game was the Bulls' poor defense. The Magic shot 51.9% from the field and 40.7% from the three-point line. It's hard to win games when allowing opposing teams to shoot that well from the field. The Bulls were also in big foul trouble as the Magic had 37 free-throw attempts vs. the Bulls' 20 attempts. In totality, the Magic proved to be the more aggressive team and worked to ensure they got the shots they wanted.

The Bulls struggled to get back in transition and properly set their defense on multiple occasions. Nikola Vucevic was able to anything he wanted offensively. He scored at will around the paint and freely picked his spots en route to 43 points. The Bulls simply had no answer for him.

Patrick Williams Puts Together Complete Game

One bright spot in this game for the Bulls was Patrick Williams. The rookie scored a career-high 20 points on 7/11 shooting from the field. Despite being only 19 years old, Williams continues to prove that the NBA game is something that he isn't afraid of. Just take a look at this monster dunk to achieve his best NBA scoring night to date.

The important thing for Williams is consistency. He sometimes into the background and plays less aggressively. For Bulls fans, it would be a pleasant sight to see him put together this kind of effort on a consistent basis. Despite this, there is a lot to like about Williams and his potential. It's becoming clearer by the game why he was Arturas Karnisovas's guy coming out of the draft.

Lauri Markkanen Injury

A bit of concern for the Bulls came in the first quarter when Lauri Markkanen appeared to sustain a right shoulder injury in the first quarter. He ended up leaving the game after playing 17 minutes and scoring 13 points. It was later confirmed that he indeed sprained his right shoulder and was immediately ruled out for the remainder of the game.

Markkanen has put together a strong start to the new year as he seems to be playing with some new-found confidence that has been a welcome sight for Bulls fans. This injury comes at an unfortunate time for him, and it's doubtful that he will be available for tomorrow night's rematch against the Magic. Markkanen will undergo further evaluations on his shoulder to diagnose the full extent of the injury.

State of the Bulls and What’s On Tap Next

Tonight’s defeat at the hands of the Magic marks three losses in the last four games for the Bulls. Despite a promising start at the beginning of the season, the Bulls' play has tailed off a bit. Billy Donovan will look to rally his troops and see how they respond in tomorrow night's rematch against the Orlando Magic. That game tips off at 6:00 PM CT as the Bulls will look to square the series. As always, tune in to the Bulls On Tap podcast for further postgame analysis.