For most of Saturday, the Orlando Magic’s 128-109 home loss to the Chicago Bulls looked like it was going to go how most of their games on the second night of a back-to-back have gone.
The defensive intensity was lacking early. Their 3-point shots weren’t falling.
The Bulls took advantage of the Magic’s lackluster play, holding leads of 25-19 at the end of the first quarter, 60-47 at halftime and 89-64 with 3:27 left in the third quarter.
“Us trying to go shot for shot, that’s what started the momentum,” coach Jamahl Mosley said. “Back-to-backs are difficult. It forces you to give in sometimes. That’s what we started out doing trying to give in to the easy shot exchange.”
The Magic appeared to have lacked answers to the problems Chicago was causing — until their second unit found some solutions.
The bench unit of Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs (11 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds), Admiral Schofield, Bol Bol and Moe Wagner found the two-way play the Magic lacked for most of the game.
They got the stops needed to cut the deficit to 95-81 at the end of the third.
Wagner (team-high 27 points) scored 16 straight points during the second half, cutting the deficit to 98-86 with 11:19 remaining.
Anthony (21 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds in 30 minutes off the bench) had back-to-back buckets to trim the deficit to 98-90 with 10:22 left — the first time the deficit was single digits since midway through the second quarter.
The Magic stuck with the Bulls for most of the fourth despite the shotmaking from Zach LaVine (32 points), DeMar DeRozan (32 points, 8 assists) and Nikola Vučević (26 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists). Anthony made a 3 to cut the deficit to 111-106 with 4:28 remaining.
They didn’t get any closer, with the Bulls (23-26) holding off the Magic (19-31) at Amway Center to give Orlando a second consecutive loss.
“If we’re going to be the team we want to become,” Moslet said. “we’re going to have to hang our hat on the defensive side of the floor regardless of if shots are going in or not.”
The lineup of Anthony, Suggs, Bol, Schofield and Wagner played the final 14:49.
“That second unit did an unbelievable job of getting us back in it,” Mosley said. “Their resiliency, their fight, their togetherness, they shared and moved the ball. They made shots but it was more that they hunkered down and tried to get stops in order to get out on the break and run.”
Every starter had an individual plus/minus of at least minus 14. Mosley said he knew he was going to stick with the second unit when Wagner cut the deficit to 109-101 after making a pair of free throws with 5:35 remaining.
“That group had a level of intensity about them,” Mosley said. “They had a resolve about them. They had the momentum going and we wanted to stick with that group [at] that moment.”
The Magic had lost 110-105 Friday at Miami.
They didn’t need a lot of time to dissect what the problems were in that.
“The turnovers,” Mosley said pregame, “some of them were unforced. The ones that led to the breakout easy baskets for them are ones that hurt.”
The Magic’s 20 turnovers led to 32 Heat points and were their most giveaways since their Nov. 14 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
Ball retention was an issue for the Magic earlier in the season but not recently.
They had the league’s second-worst turnover frequency (16.8%) through their first 24 games but had improved significantly. Their turnover frequency of 13.9% was the league’s 16th-best mark — middle of the pack — in their 24 games ahead of Friday.
This gives credence to the idea that Friday was simply an off night against a Heat squad that’s one of the better teams at forcing giveaways.
That appeared to be the case, with the Magic turning over the ball just 13 times Saturday, but it didn’t help them get over the hump and overcome the early defensive issues.
“In general, it’s less an Xs-and-Os thing,” Wagner said. “It’s an energy thing. We know we’re capable. We were just flat. Part of that was putting our heads down too quickly and kind of letting go [of] a little bit of our focus. We’ve got to get better at that.”
Jonathan Isaac was available against the Bulls after sitting out against the Heat because of left knee injury management.
He finished with 5 points (2-of-7 shooting) and 4 rebounds in 9 minutes.
Isaac played his first NBA game in over 2½ years in Monday’s win over the Boston Celtics, recording 10 points (4-for-7 shooting, 2 of 3 on 3-pointers), 3 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 assist in 10 minutes.
He had 5 points (2-for-4 shooting, 1 of 2 on 3s), 2 assists and 2 steals in 8 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Indiana Pacers.
The Magic start a four-game road trip with matchups at the 76ers Monday and Wednesday.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.