Magic's favorable stretch starts in Chicago.

December 21, 2018

CHICAGO -- As favorable as the upcoming stretch of games appears for the Orlando Magic, coach Steve Clifford understands that nothing can be taken for granted.

The Magic will play only one game on the road in their next five games, with that road test coming Friday against the struggling Chicago Bulls at the United Center. But although the Magic are entering a stretch in which the majority of their opponents - including the Bulls -- are playing sub-.500 basketball, Orlando (14-16) will be looking to bounce back from a 39-point loss to the San Antonio Spurs that Clifford admits he didn't see coming after his team picked up a pair of victories in Mexico City.

Now, the Magic hope to rebound without getting ahead of themselves against competition that Orlando has found success against this season.

"With our team, we're crazy if we look past anybody," Clifford said, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "We're not understanding the league."

The Magic beat the Bulls in Mexico City recently in a 97-91 victory. Although the Bulls (7-25) are again without a pair of injured starters in guard Zach LaVine (ankle) and Bobby Portis (ankle), Clifford isn't selling anyone -- including Chicago -- short.

"We don't get to buy five games where we pay the team $100,000 so we can go 5-0," Clifford said. "It just doesn't work that way in this league.

"And if we look past anybody, then we don't understand who we are nor what we have to do. There will be no game this year where we're just going to line up and win unless we play well. None. And yet I also want to say that we can beat any team. We can beat any team."

The Bulls have lost both LaVine and Portis this week due to their respective ankle injuries, which will keep them out of Chicago's lineup for the next 2-4 weeks. Chicago will carry the NBA's worst record into Friday's game and will be looking to bounce back from a loss on Wednesday to the Brooklyn Nets.

Chicago has lost two straight games and eight of its last 10 games while being hampered by injuries that also includes guard Cameron Payne, who did not practice on Thursday. The Bulls have also played significant time without Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn, both of whom were out of the lineup in the stretch that led to Fred Hoiberg's recent firing.

But coach Jim Boylen knows he can't make excuses, although his team's inability to stay healthy doesn't help Chicago's chances of being competitive on a nightly basis. The Bulls have also been playing without Jabari Parker, a player the Bulls are attempting to trade, according to reports by multiple media outlets. But Parker -- who is averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game -- has been out with a stomach bug and may see time now that Portis is injured. Parker was recently pulled out of Boylen's rotation.

The Bulls will continue to do the best with what they have.

"What breaks my heart is guys getting hurt," Boylen said on Thursday, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It's tough on them. It's their career, their life. Injuries are difficult. The personal part of it really bothers me. Obviously, we have a team concern. And it hurts the development of the team when anybody is out, whether they're in the rotation or not. Because we're all trying to get better, we're all trying to work, we're all trying to support the team."