CHICAGO – Zach LaVine isn’t shying away from tense moments. The high-flying guard delivered again, just in time to lift the Bulls to another tight victory.
LaVine broke for a tiebreaking dunk after stealing an inbounds pass in the closing seconds, Lauri Markkanen scored 21 points and the Bulls beat the Orlando Magic, 105-101, on Monday night.
The Bulls blew an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter, yet still came away with their second win in three games after dropping seven in a row.
LaVine finished with 18 points and seven rebounds. But his biggest contributions came near the end of the game.
LaVine locked on Shelvin Mack and swiped Jonathan Simmons’ inbounds pass with 15 seconds left, breaking for a thunderous slam to put the Bulls on top. He added two free throws after Mario Hezonja missed a 3-pointer.
“I was trying to be aggressive on the inbounds, trying to make it hard for [Mack] to catch,” LaVine said. “I wasn’t trying to obviously go for a steal and be able to get out of position, but it opened up like it did.”
LaVine also scored 35 – including the Bulls’ final 11 points – in Friday’s 114-113 win over Minnesota.
“I embrace it,” LaVine said. “You have to get it done. Everybody wants to have the ball in their hands at the end of games. But you have to have the confidence and the ability to do it. And I think I do.”
He sat out a loss to Washington the next night because he hasn’t been cleared for back-to-back games after ACL surgery with the Timberwolves a year ago.
Bobby Portis added 19 points and seven boards for the Bulls, and Jerian Grant had 14 points and seven assists.
Hezonja led Orlando with 24 points, though he was angry about his miss at the end. Evan Fournier scored 22.
“I’m [ticked] that I missed,” Hezonja said. “Simmons made a great read, the rest is on me. I didn’t win for my team today and I’m extremely mad, but it’s going to serve as experience going forward in these clutch moments for me.”
The Bulls appeared in control when they led, 93-75, with 8:23 left after an 11-0 run. Denzel Valentine punctuated that spurt with a dunk and two free throws.
But the Magic went on a big run of their own, with Hezonja leading the way. He nailed a 3-pointer to give Orlando a 98-96 lead with 3:07 remaining. Portis tied it with a floater and responded to a 3 by Fournier with one of his own, making it 101-all with 2:29 left.
Magic: Center Nikola Vucevic (broken left index finger) is eyeing the first game after the All-Star break – Feb. 22 against New York – for his return. Sidelined since late December, Vucevic said his conditioning is there, but he is still getting “more comfortable with the hand.”
“[I’ll] keep working out during the break,” he said. “Then after the break, I’ll come back and have a couple practices with the team and get it straight going into the Knicks.” ... Forward Aaron Gordon (strained left hip flexor) missed his seventh straight game and likely won’t return prior to the break, coach Frank Vogel said. ... Fournier hit three 3-pointers, his 18th game with at least three from long range.
Bulls: Guard Kris Dunn missed his 11th consecutive game, and coach Fred Hoiberg wasn’t sure if he will be ready to return against Toronto on Wednesday. If Dunn doesn’t play against the Raptors, he still might compete in the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend. “Right now it’s just about reconditioning himself, getting himself ready to sustain minutes in an NBA game,” Hoiberg said. “He’s just not quite there yet, he’s making progress. He’s still very sore from the increase in workload that he’s been doing this past week.”
Magic: Host Charlotte on Wednesday.
Bulls: Host Toronto on Wednesday.