NBA League Pass Picks: Chicago Bulls at Orlando Magic

Chicago at Orlando

Time: 6 PM CT (NBA LP)

Spread: ORL -8

Total: 217

Odds c/o 5dimes

ORL TEAM NOTES:

The Orlando Magic might finally be turning the corner after six long-suffering seasons since the departure of former three-time Defensive Player of the Year, Dwight Howard. The team has gone through four coaches, but it finally found its man in Steve Clifford. Clifford said prior to the season if he could manage to coach the Magic to a top-10 defensive rating the team would make the playoffs. The Magic have done just that: It is now ranked No. 10 in defensive rating and knocking on the door of postseason contention.

Instrumental in all this has been the play of All-Star center Nikola Vucevic. “Vooch” is in a contract year and will be a free agent that many teams will covet after this season. With Orlando grooming Mo Bamba (but also with him being nowhere near ready for big minutes), it will be a matter of intrigue to see what the front office decides to do with regard to Vucevic. Ostensibly, he has been the primary reason for Orlando’s successes this season, but the Magic are still not deluded enough to discard the idea that the team is rebuilding. Bamba has shown flashes, but he needs to add a lot of bulk to match up with NBA centers. His shot blocking is a skill that is always useful, but he often looks confused on offense. Right now? He is sitting out with a stress fracture, though it is not expected to require surgery.

Outside of Vucevic, Aaron Gordon has become more consistent, and Terrence Ross is probably the chic pick for Sixth Man of the Year as a total flamethrower who has bailed out the Magic on numerous occasions during scoring droughts. Ross, too, is a free agent after this season. The Magic might look promising now, but it is a team that will have many decisions to make.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Issac and Wesley Iwundu are blossoming in their sophomore seasons. Isaac had an 18-point first half in the Magic’s most recent victory over the New Orleans Pelicans. He finished with 20 points and three blocks, displaying the two-way dominance that the Magic thought he would when it selected him No. 6 overall out of Florida State.

Iwundu’s contributions tend to be often intangible, but Clifford rightly dubbed Wesley the team’s best perimeter defender and he should have a long career if only because of his energy and defensive talents. The Magic are really rounding into shape, and once the team upgrades its point guard position from DJ Augustin, it really might be a middle-tier contender. That is all ignoring the fact that the future point guard may already be in tow: Markelle Fultz was acquired from the 76ers and should debut soon.

CHI

The Bulls are just 6-23 on the road this season.

The Bulls are just three games better than cellar-dwelling Cleveland, and there is no hope of this team making the postseason this year.

The Bulls have struggled on both ends of the court. It averages just 101 points per game despite strong offensive games from Zach LaVine, who leads the team in scoring at 22.9 points per game. Lauri Markkanen has been good since returning from injury, and he has averaged 17.1 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals/blocks per game. Jabari Parker has been mostly a disappointment though, and Bobby Portis—thought to be promising—has missed most of the season.

The Bulls surrender 111 points per game and possess a -9.9 point differential while ranking near the bottom of the league in assists per game and boards per game. There are few bright spots on the roster, but Wendell Carter Jr has fulfilled some of his promises.

The rookie has averaged 10.3 points, seven boards and 1.32 blocks per game in his rookie season. The Bulls will have to re-tool and gain a defensive identity this offseason, but in the meantime, it does have a few promising pieces to work with in the trio of LaVine, Markkanen, and Carter Jr.

Chicago has lingered since trading Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves, and Butler has gone on to end up in Philadelphia. The team lost not only its leader but the only player close to resembling a superstar, notwithstanding that LaVine, at least, scores like one.

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