Two Eastern Conference teams, linked by a high-profile trade that happened eight months ago, meet for the first time this season on Friday when the Orlando Magic host the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls have split their last 12 games after a 6-1 start. That included Wednesday’s 118-113 loss in Houston as the host Rockets rallied in the second half to end a 15-game losing streak.
After missing seven games in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, former Orlando standout Nikola Vucevic returned to Chicago’s lineup on Wednesday and contributed 14 points and 13 rebounds. Vucevic went 6-for-16 from the field, making a pair of 3-pointers, and had four assists before he fouled out with 2:46 remaining.
Houston outscored Chicago 35-18 in the third quarter to erase a nine-point halftime deficit, and the Bulls would get as close as 102-101 in the final period. Zach LaVine scored a game-high 28 points, while Alex Caruso had 15 points off the bench after missing Chicago’s previous game against Indiana because of a left wrist contusion.
“We’re going to have to be better, really on both ends of the floor,” Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said after the Houston loss. “We had 17 assists in the first half, we were moving and sharing the ball. I think you can see when (Vucevic) is out there it makes the game easier and then we played like that in the fourth quarter. But we just came out (in the third quarter) and kind of messed around with the game.”
Orlando traded Vucevic to Chicago in March as part of a trade deadline deal that brought center Wendell Carter Jr. and two first-round picks to the Magic. The two-time All-Star played nine seasons in Orlando, averaging 17.6 points and 10.8 rebounds per game, and is one of three players (Dwight Howard and Nick Anderson) to reach 10,000 points with the franchise.
The Magic used one of the picks obtained via the trade to select Michigan’s Franz Wagner eighth overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. Wagner has appeared in all 19 games this season for Orlando, averaging 12.6 points and 4.1 rebounds.
Carter Jr. totaled 14 points and 11 rebounds during Orlando’s 106-99 home loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday. The former Duke Blue Devil has eight double-doubles this season as the Magic rebuild their roster under new head coach Jamahl Mosley.
“There was a lot of great things to take from this game, as much as this loss hurts,” Magic rookie Jalen Suggs said postgame Wednesday. “Really wanted to get this one going into Thanksgiving and kind of build it into Friday, but there’s a lot of great things that we take away from today. Things don’t change overnight, so just continue to try and build on performances and games.”
The Magic, who will wear their new orange-themed Nike NBA City Edition uniform for the second straight game, have lost four in a row and seven of their last eight. Orlando built a 74-67 lead against Charlotte, but the Hornets took control with a 29-10 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters.
Three Orlando bigs — Mo Bamba, Moritz Wagner and Carter Jr. — combined to make eight 3-pointers, score 45 points and clear 27 rebounds against Charlotte. Bamba tied his season high with 18 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for his eighth double-double, while Moritz Wagner reached 1,000 career points by scoring 13 off the bench.
Orlando had six players score in double figures versus the Hornets, including Suggs with 17 and Franz Wagner with 16. Gary Harris also scored 13 points, shooting 3-for-8 from beyond the arc, in a season-high 35 minutes.
Leading scorer Cole Anthony is listed as questionable for Friday after he missed Orlando’s last three games with a sprained right ankle.