Bill Smith/Chicago Bulls
Bulls buzz the Hornets
Bulls improve to 43-29, clinch playoff berth
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By Sam Smith | 3.23.2015 | 9:32 p.m. CT
The Bulls Monday came through with a strong defensive effort and clutch play down the stretch from Nikola Mirotic for a 98-86 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
The Bulls improved to 43-29 and 23-14 at home with their third win in the last four games while the Hornets suffered a potential playoff setback in falling to 30-39.
The Bulls were led by Mirotic with 28 points, 14 in the fourth quarter including a spectacular dunk over Jason Maxiell. Pau Gasol added 27 points and 12 rebounds and Jimmy Butler in his return from injury had 19 points and nine rebounds.
The Bulls got off to a solid start with Gasol shooting jumpers for a dozen first quarter points as the Bulls took a 28-26 lead after one quarter. The Hornets had won two of the previous three against the Bulls and proved troublesome again as they got their three-point game going in the second quarter, making seven of nine threes in the first half for a 49-48 halftime lead. The Bulls were one of eight on first half threes. The Bulls got a nice boost from some fancy footwork drives from Aaron Brooks in the third quarter and on a Gasol three pointer took a 74-69 lead after three quarters.
1. Jimmy Butler returned from an elbow injury after missing 11 games. He was aggressive, seemingly playing without discomfort though as expected his shooting was uncertain. But he was getting to the free throw line.
2. Nikola Mirotic has emerged as the Bulls primary offensive option off the bench and opened the game with another strong effort and 14 first half points and a huge fourth quarter finish.
3. Pau Gasol continued to be the fulcrum of the Bulls offense, this time with his perimeter shooting and a fabulous third quarter baseline reverse dunk and Gasol scream of delight.