Tuesday, February 20, 2024

NBA Preview: Chicago Bulls (25-27) at Orlando Magic (28-24)

Both the visiting Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic look to continue recent surges when they meet on Saturday.

Chicago opened a four-game road swing that takes the Bulls into the All-Star break with a 118-110, come-from-behind win Thursday in Memphis. DeMar DeRozan scored 30 points, Coby White delivered his fourth consecutive game of 20-plus points with 20, and Andre Drummond was near-perfect shooting (10-for-11) in a 21-point, 13-rebound double-double.

Drummond’s only missed field-goal attempt preceded a tip-in that capped a pivotal, 16-4 run in the fourth quarter.

The double-double was Drummond’s second in as many games, both Chicago wins. He posted 16 points and 16 rebounds on Tuesday in a 129-123, overtime defeat of Western Conference-leading Minnesota, and Drummond’s four blocked shots helped pace the Bulls to a season-high 16 as a team vs. the Timberwolves.

Chicago aims for just its fourth winning streak of three games or more this season when it comes into Orlando. The Magic are playing the second date of a four-game homestand, which opened on Thursday with a 127-111 defeat of San Antonio.

Franz Wagner scored 34 points against the Spurs — four points shy of the career high he matched in Orlando’s 111-99 win at Detroit last Sunday, and a significant bounce-back from the 13 points he scored on Tuesday in Miami.

Wagner was stuck on single-digit scoring until late in the fourth quarter in the Magic’s 121-95, wire-to-wire loss against the Heat. The setback is Orlando’s only blemish in the past five games, a stretch that includes a Feb. 2 win over Minnesota.

Wagner is averaging 27.8 points in the four wins, almost seven more per game than his season output of 20.9. He also committed only two combined turnovers in the Magic’s past three wins.

Orlando commits 14.6 turnovers per game, eighth-most in the league through games played on Thursday. Conversely, the Magic are forcing 15.3 turnovers a contest, the second-best production in the NBA.

Orlando’s ability to garner takeaways has helped fuel their 110.8-point per game defense, seventh-stingiest in the NBA. Chicago is not far behind at No. 11, holding opponents to 112.8 points per game.

The Bulls also rank eighth with 14.3 turnovers forced per contest.

Each of the two matchups between Chicago and Orlando this season were defensive struggles going the Magic’s way. Orlando won a 96-94 meeting on Nov. 15 in which Jalen Suggs made three steals, and each of Goga Bitadze, Gary Harris and Jonathan Isaac came away with two steals.

Two nights later in an NBA in-season tournament matchup, Orlando won 103-97, with Wagner making two steals and the Magic holding the Bulls to 44.3 percent shooting from the floor.

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