Bulls can't overcome slow start in 110-104 loss to Hornets

It was a little early for Thanksgiving, but there were indications. Like the way the Charlotte Hornets in Monday’s 110-104 victory carved up the Bulls in their pick and roll offense.

The Hornets had 56 inside points and led by 23 points late in the third quarter before pulling their regulars. The Bulls came back in the 4th, getting within a chance to tie with a three with 41 seconds left but missed. The loss dropped the Bulls to 1-2 in the preseason with a home game coming up against Indiana Wednesday.

Zach LaVine led the Bulls with 26 points, making four of six threes and three straight in one stretch with some impressive driving dunks. Bobby Portis had 17 points off the bench as the primary offensive support for LaVine. Antonio Blakeney had 15 points, with 10 in the fourth quarter. Justin Holiday added 10 points. Jabari Parker again struggled shooting with three of 11, his made baskets primarily on driving dunks. Parker did lead the Bulls with 11 rebounds. Wendell Carter Jr. led with five assists.

But it was another offensive game with too many isolation jump shots as the Bulls had 19 turnovers against just 16 assists. No starter had more than three assists. The Bulls fell behind by 14 points at halftime and 15 after three quarters.

“I thought the biggest thing for us in the first half were the turnovers,” said Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg.

Kris Dunn had six turnovers, though several were on passes with teammates turning the wrong way or not expecting the pass. The Bulls 19 turnovers led to 21 Charlotte points.

“They were mostly unforced and it got them going from a confidence standpoint,” Hoiberg noted. “We had some really good stretches defensively, but when we started turning the ball over it got them confident and they started hitting shots. We have a lot to clean up and a lot we have to get better at here in the next week.”

Hoiberg has continued to mix lineups, with starting center Robin Lopez getting taken out early for Carter, and Portis and Parker both playing multiple positions.

“I just think we’re in a constant battle of trying to figure out how to play with one another and get better,” said Holiday, an unexpected starter with Lauri Markkanen and Denzel Valentine hurt. “Obviously we don’t like losing these games. But what these games are going to do for
us is continue to be a learning curve to figure out how we can play together. That’s all it is. I’m not trying to use the excuse that it’s early, but it’s our first time playing
together. So we’re going to use that situation and try and learn from it and hopefully by the time it’s time, we can be on the right track. In camp, we didn’t really even play like these teams that play together; it was mixed up a lot.”

It showed again on the defensive end with the Bulls several times yelling for teammates to switch and no switch occurring. There were numerous open layups that resulted in quick Hoiberg timeouts. And then the Hornets repeatedly put smaller Bulls guards in pick and rolls that produced easy scores for Cody Zeller with 14 points. Kemba Walker led Charlotte with 20 points.

“I thought we got off to a really great start,” said Hoiberg. “We got two really great stops which led to runouts for us when we created a couple of turnover opportunities. But then we let them get the momentum back. We had a group out there that really competed to end the third and got us off to a good start in the fourth. But it was too late.”

It really wasn’t until into that fourth quarter when the Bulls played more active and physical defense, though it was mostly against a group of Hornets rookies who shot 32 percent and zero for six on threes in the quarter.

Like against the Bucks, the Bulls did get off to a competitive start with the aggressive play of LaVine and then Carter in a nice high/low passing game with Portis. LaVine and Portis have been the team’s most consistent scorers in these three preseason games. But the Bulls began getting lost on weak side help as the Hornets were more active with cutting and ball movement. Charlotte thus took a 28-24 lead after one quarter as the Bulls shot just seven of 21. The rest of the team other than LaVine and Portis was three of 16 as Parker missed his first five attempts.

The defensive effort suggested more uncertainty in the second quarter as Charlotte took control with a double digit lead they would basically maintain until late in the game. The Bulls again weren’t aggressive defensively, mostly going under screens and backing off on pick and roll actions until the fourth quarter. Dunn did have four steals and was efficient with four of seven shooting. But Hoiberg took him out late after turning his head and being beaten on a layup drive from the perimeter. Though he was hardly the only culprit as most of the starters had difficulty closing defensively.

The Bulls were still within nine points early in the third after Parker went half court length for a dunk after a turnover. But the Hornets hit the Bulls with a 10-1 run. LaVine made three straight three pointers shortly thereafter with the Bulls trailing by 23 to get within 91-76 after three.

Once again, the starters mostly had double figure negatives on plus/minus ratings. Only Parker and Dunn played about four minutes each in the fourth quarter.

“I think it’s going to get better and obviously this game was better than last, but it wasn’t a win,” noted Holiday. “We’re not where we want to be and we understand at this point of the season that you’re not going to be where you want to be.”