10 observations: Bulls get mojo back in bounceback blowout of Magic

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10 observations: Bulls bounce back with blowout win vs. Magic originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Chicago Bulls entered Friday’s road matchup with the Magic in danger of extending a disconcerting malaise.

But the Bulls took care of business and walloped Orlando 123-88, bouncing back in a big way from uninspiring losses to the Pacers and Rockets earlier in the week. They move to 13-7 with the result, good for a 53-win pace at the quarter-mark of the campaign.

"We went through a little adversity," Coby White noted postgame. "But we responded well tonight."

Here are 10 observations:

1. Nikola Vučević played his first game in Orlando since the Magic, with whom he spent eight-and-a-half seasons and grew into an All-Star, traded him to the Bulls in March. He received applause and chants of “Vooch” after being introduced, and scored the Bulls’ first points of the night on a right-handed hook.

From there, Vučević put together a solid outing of 16 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a block, shooting an encouraging 7-for-13 from the floor. He played 29 minutes after logging 26 against the Rockets in his return from COVID-19, and said postgame that, while still not 100 percent, he’s feeling better each game.

2. The Bulls and Magic played to a 27-27 tie through one quarter, but the visitors engineered a 16-0 run to begin that second that gave them double-digit separation, which they built upon the rest of the night.

The formula for that spurt was familiar, as the Bulls turned an avalanche of Orlando turnovers into transition opportunities left and right. The Bulls swiped six steals, and scored seven points off six turnovers, in the period, bringing a level of defensive intensity that was inconsistent in Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. 

Billy Donovan also tweaked his rotation a bit to have Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Vučević on the floor at the start of the second quarter after Zach LaVine played all 12 minutes of the first, a well-timed adjustment.

3. On both ends of the floor, White looked the most comfortable he’s been since returning from shoulder rehab, a seven-game stretch that’s featured a good deal of rockiness. 

At the half, White was tied with LaVine for the team lead in scoring, pouring in 14 points on 6-for-7 shooting. He drilled a pair of off-the-dribble jumpers, and banked home a contested layup, in the first quarter, then added two fastbreak layups and a catch-and-shoot triple in the second. Best of all, his defensive engagement popped off the screen, sliding his feet to stay in front in 1-on-1 situations and staying attached to his assignment while fighting over screens.

"It's been a real focus point since I've been back," White said of his defensive activity. "We're so good defensively, I'm just trying to fit in."

White added six more points in the second half to finish with 20 points on sterling 9-for-11 shooting, 2-for-4 from 3-point range. That’s his highest scoring output and best overall performance of the season. 

"We really have told him to be aggressive and be who he is as he learns how to play with all these guys," Donovan said. "The ball found him quite a bit on the perimeter, which is a good thing, where he can catch and shoot or catch and drive. Tonight the ball found him and the ball went in the basket." 

White's thoughts on cracking 20 points for the first time this season?

"I don't really care, if I'm being honest," he said. "We're just trying to win the game. Whatever I can do to help my team win, whether it's score 20 or score zero."

4. Ball’s two-way brilliance was on display yet again. In the first half alone, he nabbed three steals, handed out four assists, and made three 3-pointers. His final tallies represented the ultimate Lonzo Ball stat line: 13 points, six dimes, five steals, four rebounds and 4-for-7 shooting, with all of his attempts coming from 3-point range. His defensive disruption created plenty of fastbreak chances, and his shooting and facilitating greased the team’s offensive wheels.

5. Two nights after shooting 6-for-19 against Houston, DeRozan looked on his way to another off performance early on. He scored six points in the first half, missing six of seven field goal attempts.

But he completely came alive in the third quarter, shooting 4-for-4 in the period’s first four-and-a-half minutes, including two 3-pointers (one of which turned to four due to a Jalen Suggs foul). By the 7:26 mark, he was tied with LaVine with a team-high 18 points, and ended the game ahead of LaVine’s 21 points with 23 of his own.

6. The third quarter doomed the Bulls in Houston, where the Rockets outscored them 35-18 and turned a nine-point halftime deficit into an eight-point lead entering the fourth. In Orlando, the Bulls won the third quarter 35-23 to expand a nine-point halftime lead to 21 entering the fourth, giving way to an eventual 35-point victory.

7. The Bulls shot 6-for-11 from 3-point range in that third quarter en route to a 17-for-34 night. It was a sublime, palate-cleansing offensive performance, which featured five players in double-figures (with DeRozan, LaVine and White all clearing 20 points), 32 assists and 55.8 percent shooting overall. Defensively, too, their identity returned in the form of 11 steals and 22 points off turnovers.

8. In a relative rarity, the Bulls won the bench points battle 45-27, but the reserves’ impact went beyond scoring. Alex Caruso, in particular, continued to crusade defensively, collecting four steals and finishing play with an eye-popping +38 plus-minus, just a hair short of White’s +39 for the team high.

Derrick Jones Jr., it must be noted, did foul out in just 10 minutes of game action. While a rare feat, he fell seven minutes short of the NBA record for fastest foul-out, which belongs to Bubba Wells of the Mavericks. Wells fouled out in 2 minutes, 43 seconds in a December 1997 defeat to the Bulls while playing hack-a-Dennis-Rodman.

9. Wendell Carter Jr. scored the Magic’s first points of the night with a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, and entered the first stoppage of the game (after six minutes) with eight points, three rebounds and a block on 2-for-2 long-range shooting. At halftime, he led all scorers with 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Then he opened the third quarter with consecutive alley-oop finishes.

By night’s end, Carter had a substantial double-double of 26 points (game-high), 10 rebounds, two assists and two blocks, shooting 8-for-15 from the field, 2-for-6 from deep and 8-for-10 from the charity stripe. The confidence he’s gained since the trade that shipped him from Chicago to Orlando is evident.

10. Of the Bulls’ featured four starters (Ball, LaVine, DeRozan and Vučević), only Ball played more than 30 minutes. Caruso and White checked in at 25 and 24, respectively. And they all received extended rest in the fourth quarter, a beneficial luxury ahead of Saturday’s marquee matchup with the Heat at the United Center. That will mark the Bulls’ fifth game of the week, and the second night of a back-to-back, while Miami hasn’t played since Wednesday.

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