If we never have to see the blue or black Magic jerseys again, it would certainly be a good thing.
Nothing excuses a 4-37 road record. Not youth. Not talent. Not whatever excuse you can come up with.
The Magic completed the franchise’s worst road season with a 108-95 loss to the Bulls at United Center on Monday. Those questions of the Magic’s poor record can end until next season begins when growth and maturation will be expected to occur. For now, it is just good riddance to see the road season end.
These last two games were both encouraging and incredibly frustrating.
How often is this team going to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor against the best defense in the league? Things were working in short spurts and several players had solid games. Yet, something was off. That something was indeed the Bulls’ defense and then their offense.
Chicago was just the better team, shooting 50.6 percent from the floor and making 25 of 32 free throws. The Bulls forced 20 turnovers for 24 points and took a comfortable lead over the Magic and never looked back.
Orlando got it to within three points once in the third quarter, but Mike Dunleavy drained a 3-pointer and Chicago kept making shots while forcing Orlando into mistakes. The Magic just could not string enough consistent play to go with stops on defense to secure a win, much less get back into the game.
Call it another growing pain or the willingness to try different lineups and give different players the chance to finish the game. For the second straight night, Orlando did not make any substitutions in the fourth quarter outside of a player fouling out. The Bulls, seemingly already with a win wrapped up after they opened up an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, had their starters in and things going at full throttle.
The lineup the Magic had out on the court — Ronnie Price, E’Twaun Moore, Tobias Harris, Andrew Nicholson, Dewayne Dedmon — was not able to crack the Bulls defense and get the stops offensively. It felt like the team was a step slow. The Magic certainly were not as talented and cohesive as the Bulls group on the floor.
Mike Dunleavy scored 22 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Joakim Noah added 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, doing a lot of that work as the Bulls re-established their lead and pulled away at the end of the game. Jimmer Fredette came off the bench to score 17 points for the Bulls.
Orlando had plenty of good efforts and plenty of strong moments. The Magic trailed by double digits seemingly from the start thanks to an early 12-0 run. But Orlando cut the lead to single digits in the third quarter amid a strong offensive run. It was all there.
Kyle O’Quinn took advantage of the Bulls playing well off him for most of the night. He drained several mid-range jumpers on his way to 20 points and seven rebounds. Andrew Nicholson took advantage of the packed-in defense too as he made the majority of his shots and scored 18 points. That is back-to-back 10-point games for Nicholson for the first time since December 13. It was a long time coming.
There just was not enough offense for the Magic in the end to overcome the turnovers and the rotation limitations — no player played more than 30 minutes including Victor Oladipo (10 points in 23 minutes) and Arron Afflalo (13 points, 5/7 FGs in 23 minutes).
The Bulls seemed to wear the Magic down as the game went on. Joakim Noah became more active and helped the Bulls establish an advantage on the glass. Chicago’s defense forced Orlando into difficult mid-range jumpers and forced the team to initiate its offense late. The level of execution from the Magic was not there when the Bulls really turned things up.
This was another case of “better team winning the ball game” in the end.
That does not take away from the good things the Magic did. It was generally a decent game for Orlando. The result was not what the team wanted. The Bulls put things away when the Magic could not bring the consistency.
Good riddance to the road.