Orlando Magic at Chicago Bulls (April 14, 2021): 3 Things To Watch, Odds and Prediction

Dwayne Bacon has had to carry a heavy burden in lineups beset by injury as the Orlando Magic continue to struggle. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Dwayne Bacon has had to carry a heavy burden in lineups beset by injury as the Orlando Magic continue to struggle. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic see an old friend for the first time since the trade deadline as they take on Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls.

Orlando Magic (17-37) at Chicago Bulls (22-31)

Time/TV: 8 p.m./Bally Sports Florida
Line: Bulls by 9.5
Tickets: No Tickets Available on StubHub
2021 Season Series: Magic 123, Bulls 119 in Orlando on Feb. 5; Bulls 118, Magic 92 in Orlando on Feb. 6; Tonight in Chicago

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OMD Prediction

The Orlando Magic will play against Nikola Vucevic for the first time in nearly a decade. Well, actually Vucevic has played only 22 minutes against the Magic in his career, scoring 10 points in a 16-point Magic win in February 2012. It is going to be odd to see Vucevic on the other side of the floor. But it is not odd to see him in the midst of a playoff battle with a team still seeking its identity.

The Bulls have had some high-powered scoring games but still have had some struggles defensively and finding lineups that fit together. Chicago is 3-7 since the deadline and have the fifth-worst net rating in the fourth quarter. That came to roost in their loss to the Memphis Grizzlies when their offense went cold and their defense let go of the rope.

That should still be enough to beat the Magic. Chicago struggles when teams have players who can get to the basket and create, putting players like Vucevic in that defensive bind Magic fans dreaded for nearly a decade. Orlando just does not have anyone. And the Bulls are still playing with enough energy and physicality to get the job done.

24. Prediction. 103. 38. 115

3 Keys To Watch

New faces, new places

There are going to be at least a few emotions as old friends return to old haunting grounds or meet up with former teammates. That emotion is going to be present for at least a part of this game. It should not lead to anyone trying to show the other team up. The reality is, at least for the Magic, that this is a very different team than the one Nikola Vucevic left.

But that will not make the matchup between Nikola Vucevic and Wendell Carter and Mohamed Bamba any less important. It has been abundantly clear how much the Magic have missed Vucevic, especially on the glass. Carter and Bamba have flashed plenty of defensive potential but they have both struggled to lock down this important facet of the game. Since getting Vucevic, the Bulls have been the best defensive rebounding team in the league. This battle on the inside will be vital.

Rookie development

Rookie development can be a strange thing. Young players get confidence and then get humbled fairly quickly in the league. Chuma Okeke was going through a big spurt of energy after he got pushed into the starting lineup with all the trades and was playing really well. Then he got knocked back to earth (although an injury may have slowed him down).

After averaging 16.2 points per game and 6.3 rebounds per game on 48.7-percent shooting in the first six games after the trade deadline, he is averaging 7.0 points per game on 37.5-percent shooting in his last three games. Rookies get humbled.

Patrick Williams is learning that more than anyone else. He has not found his offensive footing yet. But the Chicago Bulls are trying to get him through a bout where he has been afraid to shoot the ball even. He is not a great outside shooter, but the team needs him to be more aggressive, especially as a slasher and offensive rebounders. It is easy to see his teammates do not quite trust him to be a shooter yet though and that might be hurting his confidence some too.

Find your identity

The Orlando Magic used an energetic defense to force turnovers and get out in transition when they had their spurt of brilliance shortly after the trade. Sure, having some players absent on the opposing teams helped. No one would deny that. But the team seemed like it had a formula it could use to win.

Things have become more complicated since. The offense has not flowed well, shots are not going in and the team has struggled to recapture the defensive spark. For now, the Magic’s focus should be on trying to find the thing they are good at and focus on mastering that. Everything else should flow from that.

dark. Next. 5 questions the Orlando Magic face to finish the season

This Magic team is not good at anything right now. And that is the biggest problem they face. They have to find something they can hang their hat on and grow from. Clifford undoubtedly wants it to be their defense. And it should be their defense with the group they have.