Bulls still searching for late-game identity, but win over Magic helps

ORLANDO – Midway through his 15th NBA season, there hasn’t been a whole lot that Goran Dragic hasn’t seen.

“This is even a new one for me,” the veteran point guard said on Saturday.

Like many, Dragic feels this Bulls roster has playoff talent on it from top to bottom. What he couldn’t process was why this late in the season were they still searching for the missing ingredients?

“It is a little disturbing that the search is still going on with what, 30-some games left?” Dragic said. “This is something that as a player, as a team, you would have liked to already figure out those things because it’s coming close to the end of the season and every game matters for the playoffs. It’s not ideal.

“At the same time, where I think it’s positive is we have a lot of guys here that care. We’re trying to figure out the things that would benefit this team and get us on the same page. We still need to find that.”

Call the 128-109 win over Orlando at least a clue.

Yes, the Bulls built a seemingly insurmountable 25-point lead, and yes, like they did in losses to Indiana and Charlotte at the start of the road trip, they also blew those leads.

The difference was at least against the Magic, they found a way to bandage it up for a night.

After a 7-0 Orlando run cut the deficit to just eight with just over 10 minutes left, coach Billy Donovan called the timeout, settled things down, and watched his players react with five quick points.

That didn’t mean the young up-and-coming Magic were just going to go away, but neither were the Bulls (23-26).

Anytime Orlando looked to run down the visiting team, a big basket was made. DeMar DeRozan hit a clutch three-pointer at the 6:33 mark, and then quieted an eight-point run with a 12-footer from the baseline.

The Magic cut it to five, but Zach LaVine answered with a solid drive, and then 30 seconds later, Patrick Williams hit a clutch three.

There was give by the Bulls, but there was finally take.

“We just stayed together,” veteran center Nikola Vucevic said. “In every timeout, we just stayed calm.”

It didn’t hurt that the “Big Three” were able to flex their muscles all night either, as DeRozan and LaVine each finished with 32, and Vucevic had 26.

That doesn’t mean everything was solved on Saturday. It was a start, and one that Dragic hoped led to bigger things sooner than later.

“I would not say it’s a bad thing that guys in here are willing to search for those answers,” Dragic said. “It’s tough to say or point at names or by positions. I think we have a playoff team. But definitely I feel like most people would agree that we’ve underperformed.”

Eye on Ayo

Starting point guard Ayo Dosunmu only scored three points and handed out one assist in the win over the Magic, with Donovan admitting that he was still going through growing pains as he finds his way.

“There’s going to be nights he’s going to be good, and there’s going to be nights he’s not,” coach Billy Donovan said of Dosunmu. “But I think the growth part of it for him and the way he’s approached it, I appreciate it.”

Return of the “Dragon”

Dragic -nicknamed the “Dragon” from his Phoenix days – made the flight to Orlando on Friday, got in a workout with the backup players, and returned to the rotation against the Magic.

Dragic missed the first two games of the three-city road trip because of illness, and said, “I don’t know the last time I was that sick.”

Watching losses to Indiana and Charlotte probably didn’t help.

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