Bulls getting defensive ahead of visit from Magic

Despite the recent losses of defensive stalwarts Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso to injury, the Chicago Bulls have not panicked when it comes to being gritty and making stops.

The Bulls opened an abbreviated, two-game homestand Sunday with a 130-116 victory against the Portland Trail Blazers, marking the NBA-leading seventh time Chicago has scored at least 130 points this season.

Still, it wasn’t strictly offensive firepower that steered the team to its third win in four games. The Bulls will look to channel their winning formula again when the Orlando Magic visit on Tuesday.

«I think now we have a much better understanding that if we really want to be a good team and have a deep push at the end of the year, our defense has to be there,» the Bulls’ Nikola Vucevic said. «When you’re winning and everything’s clicking offensively, you kind of get lost in it. I think we got the message now, so hopefully we can work on it and get better and become just more consistent.»

After the Bulls watched the Trail Blazers score 65 points before halftime, they showed off their in-game adjustments down the stretch.

Chicago’s resilience pleased head coach Billy Donovan, who nonetheless pinpointed a number of areas for improvement.

«We’ve got to do a better job helping behind pick-and-roll, we’ve got to do a better job helping on the ball, we’ve got to do a better job shifting to prevent penetration,» Donovan said. «There’s just a lot of things we’ve got to do better, and it starts with your physicality.»

Vucevic (24 points, 14 rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (23 points, 10 assists) both notched double-doubles for the Bulls.

Mired at the bottom of the overall NBA standings, the Magic are seeking their season-best third consecutive victory. Orlando closed a 3-2 homestand with victories against Detroit on Friday and Dallas on Sunday.

Franz Wagner made a go-ahead layup with 54 seconds left to help sink the Mavericks and scored 18 points in the 110-108 win.

Former Bull Wendell Carter Jr. had 14 points and 14 rebounds for his team-high 20th double-double. Chuma Okeke scored a season-best 19 points to lead seven Magic players in double figures.

«I’m going out there and having fun and I’m realizing all the work I’m putting in after practice is paying off,» Okeke said. «I’m going out there confident, my teammates believe in me, and I believe in myself.»

Orlando has won consecutive games on one previous occasion this season, topping hosts Brooklyn and Atlanta by a combined 13 points in December. The Magic’s first bid for three straight wins ended with a six-point home loss to New Orleans, which started a 10-game losing streak.

Chicago can clinch the season series with a victory. The Bulls have won two of the teams’ first three meetings but are coming off a 114-95 loss at Orlando on Jan. 23.

DeRozan has paced the Bulls in scoring during all three games against Orlando, including a season-high 41 points in the most recent meeting. DeRozan connected on 15 of 21 field-goal attempts and 11 of 13 from the free-throw line.

–Field Level Media

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