ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Magic aren’t just rooting for center Nikola Vucevic to make the NBA All-Star Game for the second time in his 10-year NBA career. They’re doing their part by voting for the versatile 7-footer every chance they get.
Vucevic showed his all-star mettle on Friday, scoring a career-best 43 points as the Magic rallied late to beat the Chicago Bulls 123-119 to stop a four-game losing streak.
Vucevic scored 13 of Orlando’s first 15 points against overmatched Chicago center Daniel Gafford and had a tie-breaking clutch hook shot with 1:49 to play after the Bulls had rallied from 14 points down to knot the score at 112. Vucevic, who became an all-star for the first time two seasons ago, made 17 of 29 shots, hit 4 3-pointers and grabbed 19 rebounds on Friday
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“I’ve gone and voted for him every single day, twice – as many times as I could vote and I’m trying to do my part,” Magic rookie point guard Cole Anthony said of Vucevic’s candidacy. “We definitely want to see him be an all-star because I 100 percent think he deserves it.”
Vucevic set his career high with two free throws with 2.6 seconds left in the game. He topped his previous high of 41 points, which he scored in 2017 against Brooklyn. He said the win mattered more to him than the individual accomplishment.
“It felt great to have a career high in a win because the last one was a loss,” Vucevic said. “It’s much better when you win because you can enjoy these things more when you win. I’m most happy about the win because I thought we had great effort from the beginning.”
Trailing by as many as 14 points early in the fourth period, Chicago used a furious rally behind standout guard Zach LaVine and forged ties at 112- and 114-all. Orlando’s Evan Fournier hit a baseline jumper and two free throws in the final 81 seconds to give the Magic enough breathing room for the win.
The Bulls lost their second straight and for the fifth time in six games. Chicago used a 29-15 run in the fourth to tie the game, but once again couldn’t do enough late to win.
Just three nights removed from Toronto’s Fred VanVleet scoring 54 points against them, the Magic held LaVine in check most of the night. LaVine, who came into the night 10th in the NBA in scoring at 26.5 points per game, missed six of his first seven shots and had just two points in the first three quarters. He switched into attack mode in the fourth and finished with 26 points and eight assists.
Chicago coach Billy Donovan would like to see LaVine be more aggressive early in games.
“Zach’s played well, but for him to be aggressive early in the game – maybe not just scoring and shooting – but playing downhill, we need more of that from him,” Donovan said.
Vucevic had plenty of help as Fournier scored 14 of his 20 points in a seven-minute burst of the second quarter when Orlando wiped out a six-point deficit. Anthony added 17 points and nine assists and hit two clutch free throws with 16.4 seconds left as Orlando clung to a two-point edge. James Ennis III added 14 points for Orlando, which improved to 8-1 this season in games that it led at halftime.
Ennis was happy that the Magic could reward Vucevic with a win to go with his career-best performance.
“All of the Orlando people, vote for him because he deserves to be an all-star and he’s showing it every night,” Ennis III said. “He can’t be stopped right now.”
The Bulls’ Otto Porter made the trip to Orlando, but head coach Billy Donovan sounded as if the forward is still several days from returning because of recurring back spasms. Said Donovan of Porter, who has five games this season with at least three made 3-pointers: “I’d say he’s shut down for the time being. He’s getting treatment while he’s here and he’ll do some mobility work. A lot of it will depend on how he responds to all this stuff.”