Chicago Bulls in Mexico to face Orlando Magic amid turmoil reports

Mexican fans have waited a lifetime for the opportunity to watch their favourite team, the Chicago Bulls, in their homeland.

But hardly anyone envisioned they would get to see the current version of the team that will face the Orlando Magic on Thursday night amid reports of turmoil in the locker room under new coach Jim Boylen.

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Playing south of the border for the first time in their history, the Bulls (6-22) are the main attraction in a country where the franchise in considered the second-most popular among local fans. Many of them fell in love with the team when Michael Jordan led the Bulls to six championships in the 90s.

But these Bulls arrived in Mexico after losing nine of their last 10 games, and with the worst record in the Eastern Conference and second-worst in the NBA. The terrible start resulted in the firing of coach Fred Hoiberg, who was replaced by his assistant, Boylen, who is off to a rough start.

After a win over Oklahoma City on Friday and a 56-point loss to Boston on Saturday, Boylen called for a Sunday practice, something that is not allowed by the NBA after back-to-back games. And, according to several reports, players were on the verge of a revolt.

“What I have to do is install this thing and play in the right way to go where I want to go, and outside noise, it’s always going to be there, is part of this job and this business. I just take this as a challenge,” said Boylen, who worked for the San Antonio Spurs for a couple of seasons under coach Greg Popovich before arriving in Chicago in 2015.

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“In San Antonio, they have standards of behaviour and standards of play, and we are establishing those in here, but we can’t do that without practising, and we cannot do that without being pushed. We are in a different place, nothing wrong with that, but we are going to work hard,” Boylen said.

In the middle of the storm, the Bulls packed their bags to travel to Mexico, where perhaps the change of scenery and the love of the local fans can give them a push toward improvement.

“I think everything got blown out of proportion, but we are in a good state, the team is good and we are all together,” Bulls guard Zach LaVine said. “Always going on the road … in a different country where we can all be together is good because we can bond. I think it’s going to be a good time here.”

Orlando center Nikola Vucevic expects a tough game from the Bulls.

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“It’s going to be a challenge to play against a team that is in a tough spot, and they surely will try to bounce back and respond against us, but we are going to be prepared,” Vucevic said. “We also have three straight losses, and we want to win as well.”

According to the NBA, the Bulls have about three million fans in Mexico, a number surpassed only the Los Angeles Lakers with 3.2 million.

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“To me, it is endearing. I have been a Bulls fan since I watched them on TV in the nineties, with Jordan and Pippen and all of that generation,” said 35-year-old Jonathan Flores, who managed to sneak into the arena to watch Wednesday’s practice. “This is not the generation that I yearn growing up, but it’s still my team and I’m happy to have them here. It’s important for the country.”

The NBA is aware of the passion for the sport in Mexico, and maybe that’s why they are regular visitors. Thursday’s contest will mark the 27th game in the country, and Saturday’s game between Orlando and Utah makes it 28.

Only the United States and Canada have hosted more, and seven of the last 26 games in Mexico have been regular-season contests.

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