Saturday night, the Bulls travel to Charlotte for the second time this season, in search of a bounceback win. The game tips at 6 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Chicago — until then, here's what to watch for:
Bulls need a bounce back
And that might be an understatement. Anyone hoping that getting trounced on their home floor by Toronto, lackluster losses to the shorthanded Nets and Pacers, or blowing late-game leads to the Knicks and these Hornets would represent early-season low points were dealt a dose of cruel reality last night.
Things are bad in Chicago right now, and a loss — or any additional controversy — coming out of this game could push the team past the point of no return.
It would be disingenuous not to zero in on Zach LaVine as the person on the team most in need of a breakout performance. In the month of November, LaVine is averaging 19.2 points and four assists per game on 39.4% shooting and a paltry 4.2 free-throw attempts per game. On the season, he has had four games with a positive plus-minus, and is last on the team with a -90 overall plus-minus. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Bulls are 12.6 points per 100 possessions better defensively with LaVine off the floor.
In addition to last night, Boylen has yanked LaVine from games twice early on in the season — in Nov. 3’s loss to the Pacers and in Nov. 16’s loss to the Nets. LaVine stats in the two games that succeeded those incidents:
Nov. 5 vs. LAL: 26 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 9-for-18 shooting (3-for-7 from three)
Nov. 18 vs. MIL: 11 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, 4-for-16 shooting (2-for-7 from three)
It’s worth monitoring the level of intensity he comes out with tonight.
Catching a bad team at the right time
No game is guaranteed for this group right now, but for what it’s worth, they’re catching Charlotte at the right time.
In their last nine games (they’re 2-7 over that stretch), the Hornets have an offensive rating of 103.4 (28th, Bulls rank 30th) a defensive rating of 112.8 (22nd) and a net rating of -9.4 (27th). In the first matchup between these two, the Hornets shot absolutely lights out from three, setting a franchise record with 23 three-pointers made, but the Bulls outplayed them in most other appreciable categories.
The hope for the Bulls is that if they can close out with a little more urgency (big if) and that number naturally regresses, they can find an edge in this one. But beware of resting on laurels if Chicago gets out to a fast start; we all remember the late-game collapse on opening night that set the tone for a morbund start to the season.
Lauri Markkanen vs. PJ Washington
In Markkanen and Washington are two young forwards going in different directions. Markkanen’s struggles are well-documented, but his best game of the season remains his 35-point performance against the Hornets in the first game of the season. Markkanen shot 1-for-7 from deep in that game, making a habit of creating offense for himself with a number of aggressive drives and cuts. The Bulls have been searching for that version of Markkanen consistently — shooting struggles aside — since that night.
Maybe a return to Buzz City will provide a spark.
Washington, on the other hand, has settled in nicely to a complementary role in the Hornets starting lineup, serving as one of a host of surprise rookies taking the league by storm. He’s currently shooting 49% from three (qualifier: on only 3.1 attempts per game) — but, per Cleaning the Glass, that’s in the 96th percentile of players at his position.
Bulls fans will remember the last time these two teams squared off, when Washington set a record for three-pointers in an NBA debut with seven:
The Hornets scored a new franchise-record 23 3's as they won their opener against the Bulls. 🐝— NBA UK (@NBAUK) October 24, 2019
#12 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft PJ Washington put up a new rookie debut record with 7 3's of his own. ☔️ pic.twitter.com/E0W8rlhOrD
Chandler Hutchison upgraded
Bulls upgrade Chandler Hutchison to probable for Hornets game. Hutchison has missed two games with sore shins.— K.C. Johnson (@KCJHoop) November 23, 2019
More on this as it develops, but getting Hutchison back would be a stroke of good fortune for a Chicago team wanting on the defensive end, especially against a Charlotte team that’s marginal talent is concentrated on the wing.
Attention Dish and Sling customers! You have lost your Bulls games on NBC Sports Chicago. To switch providers, visit mysportschicago.com.