CHICAGO — In a season full of difficult lessons, the young Orlando Magic received another one from the Chicago Bulls on Friday night.
This one can be summed up like this: "Few leads are safe against the Bulls."
The Magic let an eight-point lead late in the third quarter slip away and lost to the Bulls 87-86 at the United Center.
The Magic had a chance to win late, inbounding the ball with 23.8 seconds remaining as they trailed by one point. But the Bulls denied Orlando's first option and forced point guard Beno Udrih to drive into the lane, where he spun and lost the ball with 10.8 seconds left.
"We had a play drawn up," coach Jacque Vaughn said. "They did a good job of denying the basketball to the first look that we wanted. We got the ball in with plenty of time on the clock. The pick-and-roll was good for us tonight, and we had a pick-and-roll with 15 or 16 seconds on the clock. They just had a better possession at the end than we did."
Bulls point guard Nate Robinson scored 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, and his teammate Jimmy Butler slowed Udrih after Udrih scored 18 of his 27 points in the third period.
"I'd say the last game that we played, we played 24 minutes, not 48," Udrih said. "Today, we played basically 40. Now we've got to get to 48 minutes of playing time and then we're going to learn how to close out the game and win back-to-backs and stuff like that. So it's a learning process."
Rookie Maurice Harkless tweaked his left knee in the first quarter, but his injury is not thought to be serious. Although he returned to the game later in the first half, he didn't play at all in the second half as a precaution.
Harkless said afterward he didn't know how he got hurt.
"When I walked out of there after the first timeout [in the first quarter], I just felt the pain," Harkless said. "I started limping. I couldn't run on it, so they sat me out."
Udrih scored 14 consecutive Magic points in the third and helped the Magic take a 69-61 lead with 55.8 seconds left in the third period.
In the fourth, the Magic trailed 87-78 but scored eight consecutive points to cut the Bulls' lead to 87-86, ending with a fastbreak dunk by DeQuan Jones with 1:33 to go.
"It was a collective effort," Jones said. "We knew coming in that it was going to be difficult. Down nine, I believe, with four minutes left, we all huddled together and pulled for each other. We just collectively worked together defensively and got stops."
The Magic now have lost 12 of their last 13 games.
Nik Vucevic opened the game by sinking a jumper on the opening possession. The score gave the Magic their first lead since late in the second quarter last Saturday against the Atlanta Hawks, a span of 120 minutes.
The Bulls made only five of their 23 shots in the first quarter. And three of those baskets occurred directly off Magic turnovers.
Chicago (42-33), which was playing its fifth game in seven days, continued its poor shooting in the second quarter.
It had some help from Orlando (19-58).
The Magic's final possession seemed disjointed from the start, and it ended with Udrih losing the ball down low.
"We were right there," said Nik Vucevic, who finished with 16 points and 15 rebounds. "We had a chance. We had the final possession, and we weren't able to score. It was another tough loss, but it's part of the process. We're learning from each game."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun