The Bulls got a taste of their Friday night In-Season Tournament Group play opponent in the Magic on Wednesday night at the United Center.
Here are 10 observations from the game:
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--- DeMar DeRozan was not made available for the game due to a personal matter. Before the game, head coach Billy Donovan addressed DeRozan's situation, saying the team will give DeRozan whatever time he needs to address his personal matter. Donovan didn't yet know if DeRozan would be back for Friday's game against the Magic.
--- Alex Caruso returned to the lineup for Wednesday's game. He missed the last two games with a toe injury. His last game, if memory serves those reading this correctly, was a phenomenal two-way performance highlighted by 19 points and tremendous lockdown defense on Kevin Durant.
--- Without DeRozan, Donovan opted for a starting lineup of White-LaVine-Craig-Williams-Vucevic. It marked Williams' first start in four games. He finished with nine points on 2-of-7 shooting. He added nine rebounds and two blocks.
--- Neither team got off to an acceptable shooting start in the first frame. It finished tied, 21-21. The Bulls shot 6-of-20 from the field (1-of-6 from 3-point range). The Magic finished 7-of-24 (0-of-10 from 3-point range). Both teams, however, finished perfectly from the line; the Bulls made eight, the Magic notched seven.
--- Julian Phillips got some rare first-quarter tick. Through a four-minute run, he failed to record his first NBA basket. Donovan tried to inject some athleticism in the early lineup. He finished with those lone four minutes and two shots on the floor.
--- The ship did not right in the second quarter. The Bulls scored a paltry 12 points in the frame. The Magic opened up the quarter on a 20-3 run on the back of Cole Anthony's 14 first-half points. At the half, the Bulls were shooting 26.8% from the field and 14.3% from 3-point range. LaVine and Williams each had a team-leading seven points. Their 33 first-half points tied for the sixth-fewest number of points in a first-half in franchise history.
--- The turnover battle was lost early by the Bulls. Just six turnovers in each of their last two games, they had 13 in the first half and 19 (season-high) for the whole game. If nothing else, the Bulls have thrived protecting the basketball this season. That did not reign true Wednesday, though the Magic rank third in the NBA in steals and in turnovers forced.
--- Late-game heroics from Caruso and LaVine helped pull the Bulls back into competition. Solid defensive standings and some clutch 3-point shooting helped the Bulls nearly erase their first-half embarrassment. But, Paolo Banchero --- last season's Rookie of the Year --- sunk a turnaround shot over Caruso to ruin the Bulls' comeback efforts with 1.4 seconds left.
--- We've talked about the importance of the Bulls capitalizing on this stretch of their schedule. After their overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns, the Bulls received three days off before facing the Pistons last Sunday. Including tonight's game, this four-game stretch is entirely at home against just two teams (Magic, Heat). See the next point for more on this.
--- The Bulls get a chance to correct their mistakes against the Magic, again. This time, the game counts towards group play for the In-Season Tournament. It's a solid litmus test to see how they can compete in the postseason. Can the Bulls make things right on Friday?