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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Joe Cowley

Bulls still searching for late-game identity; win over Magic helps

ORLANDO, Fla. — There hasn’t been a whole lot that guard Goran Dragic, who’s halfway through his 15th NBA season, hasn’t seen.

“This is a new one even for me,’’ he said Saturday.

Like many, Dragic believes this Bulls roster has playoff talent from top to bottom. He just couldn’t fathom why the team was still searching for missing ingredients this late in the season.

“It is a little disturbing that the search is still going on with [33] games left,’’ Dragic said. “This is something that, as a player, as a team, you would have liked to already figure out because it’s coming close to the end of the season, and every game matters for the playoffs. It’s not ideal.

“At the same time, where I think it’s positive, we have a lot of guys here that care. We’re trying to figure out the things that would benefit this team and get us on the same page. We still need to find that.’’

Call the 128-109 victory against the Magic at least a clue.

The Bulls built a 25-point lead and, like they did in losses to the Pacers and Hornets at the start of the road trip, struggled to maintain their advantage.

The difference was they found a way to bandage it up for a night.

After a 7-0 Magic run cut their deficit to eight with just over 10 minutes left, coach Billy Donovan called a timeout, settled things down and watched his players react with five quick points.

That didn’t mean the up-and-coming Magic were just going to go away, but neither were the Bulls (23-26).

Anytime the Magic looked to run down the Bulls, a big basket was made. DeMar DeRozan hit a clutch three-pointer at the 6:33 mark, then answered an eight-point run with a 12-footer from the baseline.

The Magic cut the Bulls’ lead to five, but Zach LaVine answered with a drive, then, 30 seconds later, Patrick Williams hit a clutch three.

“We just stayed together,’’ center Nikola Vucevic said. “In every timeout, we just stayed calm.’’

It didn’t hurt that the “Big Three’’ flexed their muscles all night, either. DeRozan and LaVine each finished with 32 points, and Vucevic had 26.

That doesn’t mean everything was solved. It was a start, one that Dragic hoped would lead to bigger things — and soon.

“I would not say it’s a bad thing that guys are willing to search for those answers,’’ Dragic said. “It’s tough to say or point at names or by positions. I think we have a playoff team. But most people would agree that we’ve underperformed.’’

Eye on Ayo

Starting point guard Ayo Dosunmu only had three points and one assist, and Donovan admitted that he was still going through growing pains as he finds his way.

“There are going to be nights that [Dosunmu is] going to be good, and there are going to be nights that he’s not,’’ Donovan said. “But the growth part of it for him and the way he’s approached it, I appreciate it. He will only continue to get better.’’

Return of the ‘Dragon’

Nicknamed ‘‘Dragon” from his Phoenix days, Dragic made the flight to Orlando on Friday, got in a workout with the backup players and returned to the rotation.

Dragic, who had seven points, missed the first two games of the three-city trip because of illness and said, “I don’t know the last time I was that sick.’’

Watching those losses to Indiana and Charlotte probably didn’t help.

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