ORLANDO — This was the challenge DeMar DeRozan wanted.
“Bring it on,” he said Thursday, hours before his Chicago Bulls stood pat at the NBA’s trade deadline for the third straight year.
Outlasting the injury-plagued Memphis Grizzlies that night was one thing. But the Bulls chose to compete for the rest of the season rather than pivot and try to stockpile assets. So letting opportunities get away like they did in a 114-108 overtime loss against the Orlando Magic on Saturday shouldn’t happen.
After standing toe-to-toe with the talented young Magic, overcoming matchup problems Orlando poses and an early double-digit advantage the Magic built, the Bulls scored only 22 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Chicago’s 11-point lead in the final two minutes of the third quarter evaporated. The Bulls managed just 14 points in the final 11 1/2 minutes.
“You don’t want to drop games like this that you know you could have, whoever it’s against,” DeRozan said. “Whether it’s teams under us or above us, whoever.”
But Orlando is one of the teams the defiant Bulls are chasing. The Magic’s victory put more of a cushion between them and the Bulls. Orlando is now four games ahead of ninth-place Chicago at seventh, only a half-game back of the Indiana Pacers for the coveted sixth spot that avoids the Play-In Tournament. It was the Bulls’ third loss to the Magic in the four-game series. The Bulls face the Atlanta Hawks — who sit only one game back, in 10th place — on Monday. After that, they end this four-game trip and pre-All-Star portion against the Cleveland Cavaliers before coming out of the break with a home date against the Boston Celtics, owners of the NBA’s best record.
A win Saturday would have gone a long way.
“It’s nothing we can do about it now,” DeRozan said, “but get out there, get ready for Atlanta, beat Atlanta and move on to the next one.”
— Chicago Bulls (@chicagobulls) February 11, 2024
DeRozan walked out of the Kia Center frustrated with himself for being unable to close. He had a shot to win it in regulation but watched his 3-pointer in the final seconds bounce off the rim. It was the type of last-second launch Bulls fans have grown accustomed to DeRozan delivering but the kind of heroics that have become more infrequent this season.
“In situations like that, especially a tie game, you just want to try to get a good look,” DeRozan said. “I knew if I tried to get in there, they’re long and reach well. I at least want to give ourselves a shot and not get in there and try to force up anything tough.”
A vintage DeRozan dagger would have erased the Bulls’ poor crunchtime execution and lifted Chicago to its fifth win in seven games. It would have been a rightful conclusion to a resilient game in which Coby White scored 14 points on 5-for-21 shooting, Nikola Vučević had 26 points on 25 shots and went 1-for-7 on 3s, and the Bulls bench contributed only 12 points.
It would have given the Bulls one feel-good win over Franz Wagner.
Instead, the Magic’s star in the making, whom the Bulls could have had if not for the Vučević trade, dominated while flirting with a career high. He finished with 36 points, 2 away from tying his career mark. Wagner scored 18 in the fourth quarter and overtime. He buried three of his five 3-pointers over a 2 1/2-minute spurt that flipped the game and gave the Magic a 95-94 lead with six minutes remaining in regulation. Wagner’s first two makes in that stretch came as the ballhandler in pick-and-rolls. He got the switch he wanted, putting Andre Drummond on him instead of Torrey Craig, and confidently fired away. The third was a catch-and-shoot wing 3 off a kick-out from Cole Anthony.
“We could have been better in those situations,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “The momentum changed there.”
After DeRozan missed a potential game winner at the end of regulation, the Bulls didn’t appear to have the legs to withstand five extra minutes. White, who shot 2-of-11 on 3s, came up well short on an open 3-pointer that would have brought the Bulls to within 2 with 49 seconds remaining. DeRozan then missed a driving dunk that also would have cut the Magic’s deficit to 2 with eight seconds left.
The minutes count for the Bulls’ starters: Alex Caruso with 36, Ayo Dosunmu with 39, Vučević with 43, DeRozan with 44 and White with 45.
“Quite honestly, in that overtime, we were running on fumes a little bit with some of the minutes,” Donovan said.
This is also part of Chicago’s challenge from here, playing through heavy minutes while short-handed.
“It’s easy to point and look that way,” DeRozan said. “But the way I look at it, I stress to everybody, ‘Look, man, we need every game. We’ve got to lay it all out there on the line every single game.’ Every single game is important, whether we’ve got a full team or limited guys.
“I’m sure everybody’s tired. It’s that time of the season where everybody’s just waiting for the break or whatever it may be. But we’ve got to leave it all out there.”
(Photo of DeMar DeRozan and Magic forward Jonathan Isaac: Mike Watters / USA Today)