CHARLOTTE, N.C. --- The Bulls opened their 54th season in franchise history with a 126-125 loss to the Hornets at Spectrum Center. Here are four observations:
The defense rested
Don’t let a comeback from 16 points down to take a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead fool you. The transition defense lacked. Strong closeouts were as common as Bigfoot sightings. The Bulls allowed a 15-1 run after rallying to take that 10-point, fourth-quarter lead.
The Hornets outscored the Bulls 69-27 from 3-point range. That included Hornets first-round pick P.J. Washington setting an NBA record with seven 3-pointers in his debut.
"I don’t think we contested shots well enough. And transition defense hurt us," Lauri Markkanen said. "We didn’t communicate the way we want to so they got a couple of open looks and they definitely got comfortable. And then it didn’t matter even if our hands were up. They were making shots. Twenty-three 3s is way too many."
Overall, the Hornets shot 51.1%, including 52.3% from 3-point range. That’s a franchise record for 3-pointers by the Hornets.
"I thought they had us on rotations. I thought they got downhill on us. I thought at times our 1-on-1 defense hurt us," coach Jim Boylen said. "We gotta help and you have to commit to the driver and they sprayed it out. And they made a lot of shots."
Kris Dunn briefly changed the game
The starter-turned-reserve who has been saying all the right things placed his fingerprints all over the run that flipped the script.
Once down by 16 points, the Bulls rallied in the third quarter and then watched Dunn score seven points with two steals in an 11-1 run that pushed the Bulls ahead 115-105 with 7 minutes, 6 seconds left.
"KD has accepted his role so well. He’s one of the best defenders you can have out there on the floor, for any team," Zach LaVine said. "He gets feisty. And obviously he can get it going offensively too. He just has to get into his rhythm. But he gave us a big boost. He’s a dog. He’s going to give us that mentality too. He lifts everybody else up and makes them play at that level."
Dunn victimized Dwayne Bacon twice and aggressively finished at the rim at the other end, powering through contact on one traditional three-point play. Dunn has struggled to finish at the rim throughout his Bulls’ tenure.
"We got a lotta offensive power," Dunn said. "To back it up, the second unit gotta come in and do our job. We have defined roles. Me being a defender is a role for myself and I try to take it head on."
Lauri Markkanen showed up
The third-year forward made all that preseason talk of him floating on the perimeter vanish with a variety of aggressive moves. With Michael Jordan looking on, Markkanen became the first Bull with at least 25 points and 10 rebounds in a season opener since His Airness dropped 53 points and 14 rebounds on Nov. 3, 1989.
More important than Markkanen’s 35 points and 17 rebounds was how he achieved them. He scored his first 26 points without making a 3-pointer. He consistently attacked the basket. He got downhill. He posted up. His rebounding in traffic underscored his aggressiveness.
"Just trying to be active," Markkanen said. "Be in the ball screens a lot and playing the two-man game and just being aggressive. That’s what I tried to do. And rebound the ball. I feel confident with the ball when I get a couple of touches early off the board.
"I was kind of looking for the shots during the preseason and where they come from. I know it’s going to be different in the regular season and I’ll get involved more. The rotations are smaller too. It just kind of showed the way we can play. We just got to work every day and get better at it."
Zach LaVine struggled
So dominant in the preseason with 50% shooting, LaVine missed his first five shots and failed to score until 4 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first half when he converted a driving layup. He even chose to lay the ball in on a breakaway rather than dunk it, drawing boos from the crowd.
"I was ready to go, of course. I mean I’ve played this game so many times, obviously you should know how to calm yourself down. I just missed some easy shots, man," LaVine said. "It’s not like you’re trying to miss those things. I had some point-blank layups, a couple open threes. So I just gotta knock them down, do what I do, stay with my same routine. I don’t get too high or too low. I’ll go back and look at the film, look at the things I did good and bad. But obviously I expect more of myself to go out there and lead the team, especially on the offensive end. I think that’s a big part of my job out here, and I didn’t do that. So I’m upset.’’
LaVine finished with 16 points and seven assists but curiously scored on a driving layup with the Bulls down three in the waning seconds.