Postgame Report: Magic vs. Bulls (4/14/14)

By John Denton
April 14, 2014

CHICAGO – When the Orlando Magic met as a team for the first time back in October – before they even practiced together in training camp – head coach Jacque Vaughn stressed that he wanted to see marked improvement in how the squad played at home.

Orlando did just that this season, registering a seven-win improvement at home with a game left to play on Wednesday night. They also notched some especially stirring victories on the Amway Center parquet, beating Oklahoma City, Indiana, Los Angeles Clippers and Brooklyn (twice).

For his speech to open next season’s training camp, Vaughn might want to similarly address the Magic’s need to be much better away from Orlando next season. If they can duplicate the same sort of improvement on the road as they did at home this season, the Magic could be back in playoff contention this time next year.

The Magic’s road portion of the schedule mercifully came to an end on Monday night in Chicago, and it turned out like so many other away games this season. Orlando played well much of the night and made a spirited charge at the lead, but it ultimately fell off the pace and lost 108-95 to the Bulls at the United Center.

Orlando (23-58) won on the road just four times all season – the fewest victories away from home in the NBA this season and the least amount in franchise history. One of those wins came in Chicago on Dec. 16 and as it turns out, that was the Magic’s only victory outside of the Eastern Time Zone all season. Orlando’s other three road victories this season came in Atlanta, Charlotte and Philadelphia.

``With time, we’ll be better (on the road),’’ said Magic center Kyle O’Quinn, who scored 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds. ``We made a good run at home and next year we hope that we keep the run going at home and step it up on the road.’’

The Magic also locked up at least a share of the third-worst record in the NBA this season. That could actually help Orlando in the May 20 NBA Draft Lottery that is used to determine the draft order.

Playing for a second time in as many nights after losing in Brooklyn on Sunday, the Magic turned the ball over 20 times and never led on Monday. They trailed by five after one period, by 13 at halftime and 11 after three periods. Orlando did get within three points of the Bulls twice in the third period – at 64-61 and 67-64, but they struggled score against a Chicago team that needed the victory.

Chicago (48-33) is still hopeful of getting the East’s No. 3 seed, but it would lose a tiebreaker to Toronto (48-33) if those teams finished deadlocked. The Bulls close the season on Wednesday at Charlotte, while the Raptors play in New York.

Magic power forward Andrew Nicholson went 56 games between double-digit scoring nights before he poured in 12 points on Sunday in Brooklyn. He carried that momentum over to Monday night when he made his first five shots, including two 3-pointers. He scored 19 points on eight of nine shooting in 21 minutes.

``It feels really good, and I’ve just got to keep going at it,’’ Nicholson said. ``It finally started going in. Those were shots that I was making in the beginning of the season. So I just have to keep working at it.’’

O’Quinn, who is arguably Orlando’s most improved player this season, made nine of 11 shots. Arron Afflalo made five of seven shots and scored 13 points in limited minutes. Rookie guard Victor Oladipo had 10 points and four assists, while Dewayne Dedmon scored six points, snagged nine rebounds and blocked two shots.

``We have to take the good out of these games,’’ O’Quinn said. ``We lost and that’s the first thing that we have to worry about. But individually, you want to feel good going into the offseason. For some of us guys, it’s helping.’’

Mike Dunleavy scored 22 points and hit three 3-pointers for the Bulls. All-NBA candidate Joakim Noah played a great all-around game with 18 points, s10 rebounds and seven assists, while Carlos Boozer added 13 points and 12 rebounds.

The Magic close the regular season on Wednesday night at the Amway Center against the Indiana Pacers. Indiana has clinched the East’s top seed with Miami’s lopsided loss in Washington on Monday and the Pacers have nothing substantial to play for in the finale. The Pacers will face the eighth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs.

Orlando was once again without starters Jameer Nelson (sore groin) and Nikola Vucevic (Achilles’ soreness). Nelson, who has missed the past two games, hopes to play on Wednesday in what could possibly be his last game in a Magic uniform after 10 years with the franchise. Magic management made the decision on Sunday to shelve Vucevic for the rest of the season rather than risk playing him without having practiced since April 1.

Orlando saw a nice run at the end of the second quarter squelched when Chicago’s Tony Snell hit a fade-away jumper just before the horn. Snell’s shot, which came after the ball was tipped twice into the air, gave the Bulls a 57-44 lead at the half.

Unlike a night earlier when he looked to shoot more than pass, Oladipo seemed intent on creating for others on Monday. He had seven points and three assists in the first half with the final assist a thing of beauty. Oladipo beat his man and drove baseline to draw Taj Gibson over. He then scooped the ball to Kyle O’Quinn for a dunk.

After months of dealing with a wayward jump shot and confidence issues, Nicholson was aggressive and seeking out shots early on Monday. He made his first four shots – two of them corner threes and two of them on jump shots from the elbow of the lane. He had 10 points by halftime, giving him consecutive double-digit scoring games for the first time since December.

The Magic also got nice contributions from O’Quinn and starting center Dewayne Dedmon in the first half. O’Quinn made five of his first seven shots, while Dedmon swatted two shots and grabbed three rebounds in the first half.

``We talked at halftime about just trying to make the simple and solid play,’’ Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. ``But give their defense credit. They put you in a position where the first option is not available and you have to be patient to get to the second and third options.’’