Out to snap four-game skid, Magic tip off set vs. Bulls

NBA

The Orlando Magic look to snap a four-game skid on Friday when they host the visiting Chicago Bulls for the first leg of a back-to-back between the two teams at Amway Center.

Orlando dropped both halves of a back-to-back matchup with its temporary in-state counterparts, the Toronto Raptors, for the Magic’s third and fourth straight losses.

Both defeats against Toronto — the first Jan. 31 in Tampa, Florida, the Raptors’ home for the 2020-21 season, and the second Feb. 2 in Orlando — were by double-digit margins, continuing an unfortunate trend for the Magic.

They have lost each of the four games during the current skid by at least 13 points.

“It’ll be good to get a day off (Wednesday) and reset our minds,” Nikola Vucevic said in his postgame press conference. His 22.5 points and 11.2 rebounds per game lead the Magic. “It’ll be important, especially for the younger guys, to get some reps on offense or defense or just kind of work on our games, and hopefully that helps us before we head into this back-to-back against Chicago.”

Acclimating younger members of the Orlando lineup will be critical to getting back on track, particularly with the Magic dealing with some key injuries. Forward Aaron Gordon sustained an ankle injury on Sunday that will keep him out for at least a month.

Al-Farouq Aminu has yet to play in 2020-21 due to a knee injury, and both Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are out for the year due to knee injuries.

Orlando gained reinforcements on Sunday with Chuma Okeke returning from a 16-game absence to score 10 points, dish three assists and make a steal. The Magic also signed guard Frank Mason III to a two-way deal to add some much-needed depth.

Chicago comes to Orlando having recently re-added its own key contributor to the rotation. Lauri Markkanen, who missed seven games in January, is averaging 20.7 points per game since his Jan. 15 return.

Markkanen posted back-to-back outings of 31 and 30 points on Jan. 30 and Feb. 1, providing a complementary scoring weapon to Zach LaVine. Chicago’s perimeter threat is scoring 26.5 points per game while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range and above 50 percent overall from the floor.

“I like that we move a lot without the ball,” Markkanen told reporters ahead of the Bulls’ 107-103 loss to New York on Wednesday. “The ball keeps moving, I think we get good looks, and it’s just easy to stay confident and knock down some shots.”

Under first-year coach Billy Donovan, the Bulls’ offense has jumped from 106.8 points per game in 2019-20 — the fourth-lowest output in the NBA — to 114.8 points per game. Conversely, an Orlando defense that ranked No. 5 in the league for points allowed a season ago has regressed to the middle of the pack at 111.6 given up per game.

Opponents are scoring an average of 115.7 points over Orlando’s last seven games, during which the Magic are 1-6. Chicago won a season-best three straight shortly after Markkanen’s return, averaging 121.7 points in wins over Dallas, Houston and Charlotte, but has dipped to 105.6 points per game in its last five.

The Bulls are 1-4 over that stretch.

–Field Level Media

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