Chicago are coming off a 90-101 loss to the Wizards on Saturday. Denzel Valentine had ten points, ten rebounds and five assists while Justin Holiday went for 15 points, yet the Bulls struggled to generate offense throughout the game. The Bulls are now 19-36, and in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Among the bottom eight teams in the league there is just five games difference, and Chicago sits atop this group.
On Monday, they host another team within this group, the Magic. Orlando are also coming off a loss, this one a 104-111 reverse to Milwaukee, a game which saw Shelvin Mack double-double off the bench with 19 points and ten dimes.
Three keys to the game
Payton-less Magic - Elfrid Payton was averaging 13 points, four rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.5 steals this season for Orlando before he was traded to Phoenix. He is far from a star, and his inability to shoot will prevent him from ever becoming more than a serviceable point guard, but he certainly has some usefulness. D.J Augustin and Mack will have increased ball-handling responsibilities in his absence, and it will be interesting to see how this affects the team.
Bulls’ form - Chicago have regressed to the worst version of themselves of late, going 1-8 in their past nine games. In this period, their net rating is 9.3, the fourth worst in the league and almost two points worse than their net rating for the whole season. Predominantly, the regression has been at the defensive end where they are allowing 110.6 points per 100 possessions in this time.
Who wants to win? - As we near the All-Star break, the teams who are likely to be playing for a lottery pick for the rest of the season increasingly reveal themselves. There is a pack of eight at the bottom of the standings in each league which have separated themselves from the rest, and these two are among them. Does it benefit either team to win?
Matchup to watch
Zach LaVine vs Evan Fournier - One positive to come out of the past couple of weeks for the Bulls has been the form of LaVine. After missing most of the first half season as he recovered from an ACL injury, LaVine has returned to average 17.2 points per game in his first 12 outings as a Bull. He has been significantly more productive than this in his past four games though, showing off his talent with four consecutive 20+ point games and an average of 26.5 points in this time.
His opponent will be Frenchman Evan Fournier, who is having the most productive season of his career to date. Fournier is putting up 17.9 points on 46.1% shooting, and is hitting 38.9% from beyond the arc. He is a versatile player who can score in a number of different ways - not unlike LaVine - meaning this should be an entertaining matchup.
Chicago Bulls predicted starting lineup
PG - Jerian Grant | SG - Zach LaVine | SF - Justin Holiday | PF - Lauri Markkanen | C - Robin Lopez
Orlando Magic predicted starting lineup
PG - D.J Augustin | SG - Evan Fournier | SF - Mario Hezonja | PF - Jonathan Simmons | C - Bismack Biyombo
Fournier has suited up 12 times against the Bulls, and in these games he has averaged 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists while shooting 47.3% from the floor.
LaVine had one of the best games of his young career against the Magic at the beginning of last season. In 36 minutes of action, he shot 14-22 from the floor and 7-9 from downtown on his way to 37 points, helping his former side the Timberwolves to a 16-point victory.
The over/under points total has been set at 215, which feels high. The two matchups between these two sides have yielded just 188 and 206 points respectively, and out of the past three games each side has played, only one has gone over this total. Take the under here.
This game will likely not generate a whole lot of interest in NBA circles, as both teams look to begin their run towards the bottom of the standings. Chicago have plenty of young talent though, and can be entertaining to watch, while Orlando have shown at times throughout the year that they can play competitive basketball.
With the home court advantage and LaVine providing an X-factor which Orlando lacks, the Bulls should be able to sneak over the line in this game. They’ll run out 106-101 victors.
The game will be broadcast locally on WGN-TV and FS Florida. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.(Photo credit: Maria Carmen)