Vucevic helps Bulls get back on track during return to Orlando
Orlando was the happiest place on Earth on Friday night, as far as the Bulls are concerned.
Not only did they break a two-game losing streak with a decisive 123-88 victory over the Magic, Nikola Vucevic got to return to his old home and play in front of family, while Coby White got rolling again.
DeMar DeRozan led the Bulls with 23 points and Zach LaVine scored 21. But White posted 20 off the bench while hitting 9 of 11 shots from the field. It was his first 20-point game since returning from summer shoulder surgery,
"I don't really care," White said of his stat line. "If I'm being honest, we're just trying to win the game. Whatever I can do to help my team win, whether it's score 20 or score zero, it doesn't really matter as long as we win. I think everything else will take care of itself, so that's my main focus.
"I never try to get too high, never try to get too low. Just try to stay level. Tomorrow's another day, another game. I've just got to come out locked in and focused on that."
The Bulls (13-6) will complete a stretch of five game in seven nights Saturday at the United Center and take on Miami, which hasn't played since Wednesday. So the task ahead will be challenging.
Orlando posed no such threat. The Bulls trailed 27-25 late in the first quarter, then went on an 18-0 run to take control. In their previous two games, the Bulls lost to a Houston team that broke a 15-game losing skid and was blown out at home by Indiana.
Vucevic spent nine years playing in Orlando before being traded to the Bulls last season. This was his first time back as a visiting player. He finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds in his second game back from a seven-game COVID layoff.
"It was definitely emotional, just being back in this building against the people I've met throughout the years and the friendships I built. It was a lot to take in for sure," Vucevic said. "Just a lot of emotions throughout the game I had to manage as well as trying to come back from sitting out.
"I think as the game went on I was getting better with it and was able to get myself a little more together. It was good to be back and see everybody. I'm also happy we got the win and played well. This was obviously a special place for me and it will always be special to come back."
The Magic played a video tribute during the game and Vucevic said the team sent it to him ahead of time, but it was still emotional to watch. The veteran center also got to see his wife and older son sitting courtside.
"We're really strict with his sleeping, so he hasn't been to many games yet and he's so little," Vucevic said. "Tonight we were just like why not let him go crazy a little bit and bring him to the game. I felt like it would be nice to let him sit courtside so he can have a great experience and see me up close. I was just worried he might run on the court or something."
When the game ended, Vucevic took a moment to chat with former Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr., who went from the Bulls to Orlando in the trade. Carter had a good game, finishing with a team-high 26 points and 10 rebounds.
"I just told him great game and he played really well," Vucevic said. "He got going early and hit some shots and he was able to get on the glass and drive. It's great to see a young guy that continues to improve and play well. I think also for him this game was important.
"I'm happy for a young guy who continues to improve. I always liked his game, I think he has a special future and I think this is a good place for him to do that. I just wanted to give him words of encouragement because he had a good game."