6 takeaways from the Chicago Bulls’ loss — including Zach LaVine’s slow start and another ugly shooting night – Boston Herald

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The Chicago Bulls slouched back into a losing skid with a razor-thin 96-94 finish against the Orlando Magic on Wednesday.

It was a familiar storyline for the Bulls — a sluggish first half balanced out by a resurgence in the second, only for the game to come down to a last-moment shot. This time, luck didn’t fall in the Bulls’ favor. Magic star Paolo Banchero hit the game-winner with one second left on the clock and the Bulls’ record slipped to 4-8.

Here are six takeaways from the game:

1. Late-game heroics can’t offset another off-night from Zach LaVine.

If Zach LaVine wanted to make a case for himself as a desirable trade acquisition to the rest of the league, he didn’t accomplish that in the first three quarters of Wednesday’s game.

The space directly around the rim is typically LaVine’s comfort zone. But for a second consecutive game, it was LaVine’s weakest area of the court. He missed a point-blank layup and crushed a hammer dunk off the rim, going 1-for-7 at the rim in the first three quarters.

After three quarters, LaVine had only scored 10 points on 2-for-11 shooting.

He finally broke open in the fourth quarter after he made a transition layup with 6:17 left in the game. The basket pulled the Bulls within six points of the Magic. LaVine shot 4-for-5 from the field in the fourth quarter, including two 3-pointers in the final 17 seconds.

But LaVine still couldn’t do enough to lift the Bulls to a win. And his final stat line — 19 points on 6-for-16 shooting with three assists and three turnovers — didn’t provide a convincing start to a gambit for a trade.

2. Shooting reaches new lows in the first half.

This has not been the best shooting season for the Bulls. But the first half reached cataclysmic levels of inaccuracy.

The Bulls scored 33 points in the first half on 11-for-41 (26.8%) shooting. It was their lowest-scoring first half since 2021 and their lowest shooting accuracy first half since 2018. Only three players made multiple field goals: LaVine, Nikola Vučević and Alex Caruso.

This poor shooting was balanced by an equally off night from the Magic, who did not hit a single shot from behind the arc until the 9:24 mark of the second quarter, missing their first 11 attempts from 3-point range.

“We were a little stuck in mud,” Caruso said. “We didn’t make shots and they really didn’t make shots either. It was kind of gross. It looked like some of the college games from last night for a handful of minutes.”

3. There was a fourth-quarter flop.

After closing the third quarter on an 8-0 run, the Bulls were in a prime position to complete a fourth-quarter comeback despite their worst first half in the past two years.

A resurgence from LaVine helped to lift the Bulls into game-tying position with 12.7 seconds left — then LaVine delivered with a quick 3-pointer to level the score at 94-94.

But a final defensive error left the Bulls reeling from another close loss. Coach Billy Donovan placed defensive specialist Alex Caruso on Magic star Paolo Banchero, who stands five inches taller than the Bulls guard.

The plan was never for Caruso to guard Banchero fully one-on-one. But Vučević ducked out of the paint in an attempt to avoid a 3-second violation at the same time Banchero lowered his shoulder to drive to the basket. This resulted in an isolation defensive matchup on the undersized Caruso, who contested the shot without any backside help.

“I definitely should have done more to help AC,” Vučević said. “I thought he still did a good job and Banchero took a good shot and made it, but we could have done more, the rest of us, to help AC.”

Caruso said he believed Banchero traveled on the play, but still felt the Bulls could have stopped the shot with better defense.

4. Bulls play without DeMar DeRozan.

DeMar DeRozan was not available for Wednesday’s game while attending to a family matter. Donovan said he’s unsure how long the issue will keep DeRozan away from the team, but they hope to see the star forward return by Friday’s In-Season Tournament game against the Magic.

Patrick Williams returned to the starting lineup in place of DeRozan. He provided key defense against Banchero and snagged nine rebounds but struggled to make an impact offensively, finishing with nine points.

5. Bulls record a season-high turnover tally.

The Bulls have done well protecting the ball this season. That was not true against the Magic on Wednesday, when they coughed up a season-high 19 turnovers.

This year, the Bulls have averaged 11.8 turnovers per game, the lowest number in the league. They gave up fewer than 10 turnovers in their last two games. But mistakes plagued the Bulls on Wednesday, with many unforced errors.

Donovan said the turnovers hurt the offense more than any bad shooting night.

“It had nothing to do with the shooting,” Donovan said. “Tonight, it was our turnovers. We need to get our focus off the shooting and get our focus really on the stuff that we can control.”

6. Julian Phillips gets an early rotation.

Rookie Julian Phillips earned minutes in the first half for the first time this season, putting in close to five minutes between the first and second quarters.

This is the first time Phillips cracked the rotation outside of garbage time minutes at the end of blowout losses. It was an unassuming entry for the rookie, who missed both his shots and committed a foul in less than five minutes on the court.

Donovan said after the game he would have preferred to give Phillips time with more veterans on the court rather than rotating him with a mostly secondary rotation.

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