Bulls grab first road victory of season in laugher against Magic
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Guard Denzel Valentine wasn’t much concerned about the reasons for the Bulls’ 105-83 blowout win over the red-hot Magic on Friday night.
Had the Magic, now 6-3, looked past a one-win Bulls team? Was it just a letdown? An off night?
Whatever the reason, Valentine just hopes the Bulls’ opponents keep falling into the trap.
“Of course people are going to underestimate us, but that’s good,” he said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do, we can hit them right in the mouth, and it will be too late for them to come back. I like being the underdog. It’s good sometimes being the underdog.”
In what was easily their most complete performance so far, the rebuilding Bulls (2-5) dominated the Magic, including holding the high-scoring home team to just 38 points in the second half. Seven Bulls finished in double figures. Rookie Lauri Markkanen, who was often matched up with early-season breakout star Aaron Gordon, helped hold Gordon to a season-low 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting.
“I was just trying to make him uncomfortable,” Markkanen said of his defensive performance. “I don’t know how much he had, but it was a large margin of a win, so glad I did that.”
So was his coach.
“Our grit and energy and intensity on the defensive end in the first quarter was excellent,” coach Fred Hoiberg said. “And then, second half — to hold this team that has been scoring as well as anybody in the league besides Golden State to 38 points in the second half showed just how locked in our guys were. Offensively, I thought we shared the ball. It was a good, unselfish effort. You talk a lot in this business about team wins, and this was a true team win.”
Justin Holiday led the Bulls in scoring with 19 points, and Robin Lopez finished with a game-high 10 rebounds.
Because of Markkanen’s heavy workload this past summer, and the fact he’s a 20-year-old rookie, the Bulls will continue to try to limit him to around 32 minutes per game. They have no plans to stray from that just because of back-to-backs or three games in four nights. Because they were dominating Friday, Markkanen played just 28:38, keeping his season average at 32.5 minutes.
“We’re really trying to be smart with it,” Hoiberg said. “We’ve got the scientific data that we’re using to try and see how much energy they’re exerting every time they step on the floor, whether it’s practice, whether it’s games. Lauri, he’s putting a lot of energy in every time he steps on the floor, being his first year, being a rookie, so we’ll be careful with it.”
When Hoiberg makes the inevitable switch to guard Kris Dunn in the starting lineup and Zach LaVine returns from his knee rehab, one intriguing possibility for the second unit is to team Jerian Grant with high-energy Kay Felder and David Nwaba. Call it the “Tasmanian Devil’’ lineup, allowing Felder and Nwaba to attack the rim while Grant plays off the ball as a long-range option.
Follow me on Twitter @suntimes_hoops.