CHICAGO (670 The Score) – Well, we’d seen that movie before.
For the second time in three nights, the Bulls on Friday produced a dismal 33-point first half against the Magic. And for the second time in three nights, the Bulls stormed back in the fourth quarter to put themselves in position to win, only to suffer the loss as the Magic made the big plays late.
Orlando earned a 103-97 win at the United Center after forward Franz Wagner’s old-fashioned 3-point play on a drive to the hoop gave them a 99-97 lead with 20.6 seconds left. Here are the most notable observations of the evening as the Bulls dropped to an ugly 4-9.
--- The cloud hanging over the Bulls is star guard Zach LaVine’s future with the organization. Trade speculation has ramped up in recent days after news broke Tuesday that both LaVine and the Bulls were as open as ever to a deal that will ship him out of Chicago, as the Athletic first reported. In the ensuing days, more behind-the-scenes details and nuggets have continued to trickle out in various outlets about LaVine’s mindset. LaVine doesn’t believe the Bulls are competitive enough to contend at any meaningful level in the East, and he's ready to play for a new coach, Yahoo Sports reported Friday.
After a slow start, LaVine had a strong game Friday, scoring 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting. His 25-point barrage in the second half got the Bulls back in the contest after they had trailed by as many as 20.
Afterward, LaVine was asked whether he felt like the Bulls were “trying the right stuff to correct things” in their 4-9 start. The question included a preamble about how coach Billy Donovan had inserted team engine Alex Caruso into the starting lineup and adjusted rotations.
"I mean, the players are doing everything they can,” LaVine responded. “I know everybody is trying to do the best they can. So you just got to figure out something that works.”
The “players” terminology that LaVine used when asked about the coach’s choices sure seemed to hint at the strained relationship between LaVine and Donovan. It’s also worth noting that the question to LaVine wasn’t leading in any way.
LaVine’s mindset seems to be entirely within the walls of the locker room, as he has been quick to reference his teammates but doesn't seem to be in the mood to discuss others in the organization. He was asked directly if he had met with the front office or if management had approached him since trade speculation ramped up Tuesday.
"I've met the team about the game against Orlando and I'll meet with them tomorrow for the game against Miami,” LaVine said.
--- The Bulls shot 30.6% and turned the ball over 11 times in their brutal first half. They trailed 48-33 at the break.
Their woes came despite Caruso being inserted into the starting lineup. The Bulls jumped out to a five-point lead amid Caruso’s first stint, but then it went downhill.
“I didn’t like the pace,” Donovan said. “I think generally, when you’re not playing with great pace, you’re not going to really generate great shots. It was a high-turnover half for us. We just got to find a way to play the way we did in the second half … just the force and pace we played with at both ends. We’ve got to be able establish that for the whole game, because we’re certainly digging ourselves incredible holes to come back from. I gave our guys a lot of credit for fighting the way they did to give themselves a chance to win the game, but that’s a tough way to live.”
--- Donovan plans to continue starting Caruso in the near future, he said. Donovan also noted that a main concern now is how to configure his lineups in the 12-minute stretch of each half – from the middle of the first to the middle of the second quarters, then the same in the third and fourth – when Caruso rests. Caruso played 23 minutes Friday and is banged up, as he has toe and finger ailments.
"I have to manage his minutes," Donovan said.
--- The Bulls trailed by 89-74 with 7:11 remaining. With around six minutes remaining, Donovan sent center Nikola Vucevic and Caruso to the scorer’s table to check in. As the reserve-heavy group continued to make a strong push, Vucevic told Donovan to keep them in there, according to Caruso.
Caruso entered with 3:13 remaining. Vucevic didn’t replace fellow center Andre Drummond until 1:38 remained. It was a rough night for Vucevic, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds while shooting 4-of-16. He missed an open go-ahead 3-point attempt from the right corner with 12.5 seconds left as the Bulls trailed 99-97.
--- Reserve guard Jevon Carter played just four minutes in the first three quarters. He was essentially the 10th man in the 10-man rotation, with fellow guard Ayo Dosunmu getting more minutes off the bench.
When Carter got the nod in the fourth quarter, he made the most of his minutes. His full-court defense and on-ball pressure got the Magic out of their rhythm and helped force a few turnovers.
“Jevon did a great job,” Caruso said. “Him, Torrey (Craig), Drum really setting the tone, just being active.”
--- Almost like a pitcher lamenting a hanging curveball that cost his team a game, Caruso rued his angles on the defensive end on Wagner’s go-ahead basket 20.6 seconds left.
Caruso was guarding Wagner when the play started, but Magic forward Jonathan Isaac set a solid screen on him to get Wagner in a one-on-one situation against the slower-footed Vucevic. Wagner slipped by him for the big bucket.
“He did a good job of kind of relocating low,” Caruso said of Isaac. “I was going to try and skate under and get Wagner back to his left hand. More just upset – I knew he was going to Euro back middle and I didn’t get close enough to make a play on the ball. I kind of went back toward the side of the backboard, so I was a little frustrated with myself on that. He made a tough play. Vooch did a good job contesting.”
Cody Westerlund is an editor for 670TheScore.com and covers the Bulls. Follow him on Twitter @CodyWesterlund.