ORLANDO, Fla. — Nikola Vucevic scored a career-best with 43 points and grabbed 19 rebounds as the Orlando Magic rallied late and beat the Chicago Bulls 123-119 Friday night, snapping a four-game losing streak.
Trailing by as many as 14 points early in the fourth period, Chicago used a furious rally behind standout guard Zach LaVine and forged ties at 112- and 114-all. Evan Fournier hit a baseline jumper and two free throws in the final 81 seconds to give the Magic enough breathing room for the win.
Vucevic set his career high and sealed the win with two free throws with 2.6 seconds remaining in the game.
Vucevic, who is making a strong case to be an all-star for the second time in his career, scored 13 of Orlando’s first 15 points against overmatched Chicago centre Daniel Gafford and carried Orlando throughout. The 7-footer made 17 of 29 shots and 4 of 10 3-pointers. He topped his previous high of 41 points, scored in 2017 against Brooklyn.
The Bulls lost their second straight and for the fifth time in six games. Friday’s loss was similar to Chicago’s loss to New York on Wednesday, when the Bulls fell behind early, used a 20-5 burst in the fourth quarter, but ultimately came up short. This time, Chicago used a 29-15 burst to tie the game, but once again couldn’t do enough late to win the game.
Vucevic had plenty of help as Fournier scored 14 of his 20 points in a seven-minute burst of the second quarter. Rookie point guard Cole Anthony added 17 points and nine assists and hit two clutch free throws with 16.4 seconds left and Orlando clinging to a two-point edge. James Ennis III added 14 points for Orlando, which improved to 8-1 this season in games that they led at halftime.
The Magic held LaVine in check most of the game. LaVine, who came into the night 10th in the NBA in scoring at 26.5 points per game, missed six of his first seven shots and had just two points in the first three quarters. He finished with 26 points and eight assists.
Chicago rookie Patrick Williams scored a career-best 20 points. Coby White chipped in 16. Thaddeus Young had 15 points off the bench, while Lauri Markkanen scored 13 points.
The teams will play again on Saturday in Orlando.
How devastating has the loss of point guard Markelle Fultz been on the Magic? On both ends of the floor, Orlando’s effectiveness has plummeted since the talented point guard went down with a torn ACL on Jan. 6.
Before Fultz’s injury, Orlando was 6-2, but it limped into Friday 2-13 since. Whereas the Magic’s net rating over the first eight games (plus-3.9) ranked seventh in the NBA, their net rating over the next 14 games (minus-13.3 points) plunged to 30th in the NBA. Not only that, the Magic’s recent net rating is 6 points worse than Miami’s (minus-7.3 points) at No. 29.
Bulls: Otto Porter made the trip to Orlando, but head coach Billy Donovan sounded as if the forward is still several days from returning because of recurring back spasms. Said Donovan of Porter, who has five games this season with at least three made 3-pointers: “I’d say he’s shut down for the time being. He’s getting treatment while he’s here and he’ll do some mobility work. A lot of it will depend on how he responds to all this stuff." ... While Chicago’s offence has made major strides under Donovan — eight more points and 1.5 more made 3s a game over last season — the defence has taken a major step back. The Bulls are allowing 7.2 more points a game this season through 20 games.
Magic: Magic coach Steve Clifford continues to insist that his team won’t turn things around until they make improvements defensively. Orlando reached the playoffs each of the past two seasons largely on the strength of its defence , but it entered Friday ranked 14th in the NBA in points allowed (111.6), 23rd in field goal percentage allowed (47.4) and 15th in 3-point percentage allowed (36.8).
The teams meet again Saturday in Orlando.
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John Denton, The Associated Press