Frank Vogel: "Our Guys Still Have Belief In What We Can Be"

By John Denton
Dec. 20, 2017

CHICAGO – After shedding veteran standouts Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo in a massive move toward complete rebuilding, the Chicago Bulls were expected to be one of the NBA’s worst teams this season.

The Bulls certainly were headed that direction early in the season as they opened 3-20. Since then, however, the Bulls have pulled off a bit of NBA history, becoming the first team ever to back up a double-digit losing streak with a six-game winning streak.

The Orlando Magic, who play in Chicago tonight at 8 ET, could learn a thing or two from the way that the Bulls have turned around their season.

Orlando (11-20) started 6-2 and seemingly sat at a comfortable 8-4 before seeing things fall apart on them. The Magic come into tonight’s game against the Bulls having dropped five straight and 16 of the past 19.

Orlando, who will get veteran guard/forward Arron Afflalo back tonight following a week-long battle with back spasms, has been hit hard by injuries and it will once again be without Aaron Gordon (calf strain), Evan Fournier (ankle sprain) and Terrence Ross (knee sprain) once tonight. Still, head coach Frank Vogel is confident that the Magic can get their season back on track.

``I think our guys still have belief in what we can be,’’ Vogel said. ``We’ve been battling the schedule early and then injuries all throughout. It’s still very early in the season. It’s a long season and there’s a lot of basketball to be played. I don’t think anybody’s losing hope on that.’’

Orlando has high hopes that third-year guard Mario Hezonja can continue his stellar play from Sunday’s 114-110 loss in Detroit. The forward not only scored a career-best 28 points, but he made eight of 12 3-pointers. In doubling his previous high for 3-pointers made in a game, Hezonja became one of just nine players in franchise history with eight 3-pointers in a game.

``He showed us what he can do so I told anything less than eight-of-eight threes is underachieving,’’ Vogel joked. ``Honestly, he’s got to make sure that he doesn’t change because most of his threes were within the rhythm of the offense. The game before that he was zero-for-two – he had two shots – and that was just fine because if the rhythm of the offense dictates you only taking two shots and you are passing it, then so be it. If in the rhythm of the offense the ball swings to you and you are open, then let it fly. He’s got to continue to play within himself.’’

Defense was the Magic’s issue on Sunday as the Pistons scored 36 first-quarter points and they tied a franchise record for 3-pointers in the game with 17. Orlando rallied from down 24 points with a 19-0 burst in the fourth quarter, but eventually it wasn’t enough because of the early defensive woes.

Locking the Bulls down defensively tonight could cure so many of the Magic’s woes, center Nikola Vucevic said.

``Our defense has to step up for sure,’’ said Vucevic, who nearly recorded the second triple-double of his career on Sunday when he finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. ``If we do that, we’ll be able to run and that’s when we are at our best. So hopefully we can get some stops and use that to get into transition and get some easy ones and get everybody going. That would be big for us.’’

Nikola Mirotic, a fellow countryman of Vucevic of Montenegro, has been very big for the Bulls during their surprising surge. Chicago rallied from nine points down on Monday to beat the Philadelphia 76ers and keep their six-game winning streak alive.

Mirotic, who missed a significant chunk of time early in the season following a fight with teammate Bobby Portis, has averaged 23.2 points per game over the last five games for the surprising Bulls. Chicago whipped the Magic 105-83 in Orlando on Nov. 3 – a game that, in part, started the Magic’s six-week slide.

``Mirotic and Portis are back and they’ve been playing really well together. They’ve been giving them a big boost,’’ Vucevic said. ``Six wins in a row is impressive. They’re playing really hard and together. It’s a game we can’t take lightly. We already know they beat us badly at home. We want to come into this game and be better prepared than we were at home.’’

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