The Orlando Magic were significantly healthier for Friday’s road game vs. the Chicago Bulls at United Center.
Guard Gary Harris made his season debut while starting big man Wendell Carter Jr. was available after sitting for Wednesday’s loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves because of a strained right plantar fascia (soft tissue under the foot).
The improved depth helped, but in the end, Jalen Suggs hitting a game-winning 3-pointer gave the Magic (5-11) what they needed to leave Chicago with a 108-107 victory.
The Magic jumped out to a 37-24 first-quarter lead and led by as many as 19 in the third behind well-balanced play: Keeping turnovers low, leaning on the Franz Wagner-Carter two-man game for efficient offense and limiting the Bulls in the half court offensively.
But they faltered late, turning the ball over 12 times in the second half and allowing DeMar DeRozan to find his rhythm. DeRozan finished with 41 points on 16-of-29 shooting.
The Bulls tied the score at 92 and had a 107-105 lead with 12.2 seconds remaining, but former Magic big man Nikola Vucevic missed 2 free throws to allow Suggs to hit the winning shot.
Harris subbed in off the bench with 4:18 remaining in the first quarter for his first game action since last season, finishing with 7 points on 3-of-5 shooting.
“Just that stability,” coach Jamahl Mosley said of what Harris brings to the team, “[and] that veteran presence of understanding where to be on the floor, getting guys in the right position. It’s going to be great to have him back.”
Harris was upgraded to probable on the Thursday injury report after missing the first 15 games because of left knee injury recovery.
He had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in late August after tearing cartilage, which also forced him to miss training camp.
“I couldn’t really sleep much last night, but definitely happy to be back out there,” Harris said post-morning shootaround. “It was killing me sitting out, watching these guys play and not being able to help them out.”
Mosley said there wasn’t a minutes restriction for Harris, who played 23 minutes, but said the team would be cautious about “not running him too long,” especially with the Magic playing the Pacers in Indianapolis tonight for the second game of a back-to-back.
Harris will help the Magic as an off-ball scoring threat with his cutting and 3-point shooting, especially in catch-and-shoot and spot-up situations.
He made a team-high 41.3% (4 attempts per game) of his catch-and-shoot 3s in 2021-22 and has ranked as an above-average-to-great cutter in six of the previous seven seasons, according to statistics provided to the league’s official website by Synergy.
“Ball movement, spacing, making sure guys are in the right spot and making sure we have a great flow to the offense at all times,” Harris responded when asked how he’ll help the Magic. “Defensively, being able to lock in, making sure we’re understanding assignment, putting pressure and doing everything we can to help this team win.”
Carter told the Orlando Sentinel he had been dealing with his injury for the previous 5-6 games before being sidelined Wednesday which was his first absence.
He wore extra padding in his shoe against his former team.
“It just got really bad last game and just didn’t feel comfortable getting out there,” said Carter, who was drafted seventh overall by the Bulls in 2018. “Knowing my body, knowing when I got pain I’m going to start favoring stuff, I didn’t want to end up hurting something else because I’m favoring something on my foot.”
Carter started every game before Wednesday, averaging 16.3 points (51% shooting — 57% on 2s and 37% on 3s), 9.1 rebounds and 3.1 assists in 32.8 minutes (14 games).
He stepped back into the starting lineup alongside Suggs (20 points, 8 assists), Wagner (20 points), Chuma Okeke (4 points, 7 rebounds) and Bol Bol (15 points, 10 rebounds).
Carter, who had 21 points and 8 rebounds, added his foot feels “good” after getting treatment the last couple of days.
“There’s really no specific thing you can put on it to stop it from hurting,” he said. “It’s just about tolerance, putting heat on it and stuff like that.”
Cole Anthony (torn right internal oblique), Paolo Banchero (sprained left ankle), Markelle Fultz (fractured left big toe), Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery) and Moe Wagner (sprained right midfoot) remain out.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Khobi Price at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.