Bulls fall to Hornets, 118-103

The Bulls late Tuesday returned from their lost road trip, three straight losses and five overall after a 118-103 loss to the Charlotte Hornets.

The Bulls this time solved their slow starts, leading after one quarter. But they once again faltered after halftime, the Hornets with an 11-2 run that broke open the late midway through the third for a 12-point lead. The Bulls then trailed by nine after three and by double digits throughout the fourth quarter. The Bulls host Dallas Friday in the United Center.

The Bulls fell to 21-40. Charlotte has won five straight and is 28-33.

The Bulls had seven players score in double figures led by Zach LaVine with 21 points. Denzel Valentine had 14 points and Cristiano Felicio a season high 12, all in the first half. Bobby Portis had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Lauri Markkanen had 11 points. Kris Dunn had 10 points with seven turnovers and three assists. Charlotte got 31 points from Kemba Walker and 24 from Dwight Howard.

Paul Zipser remained out with a sore foot. Justin Holiday returned to being inactive with LaVine back after sitting out because of the back to back set. Robin Lopez also was inactive and Jerian Grant wasn’t playing because Cameron Payne remained backup point guard. Grant was available in case of injury. It was a surprising and welcome start from Felicio with the Bulls first six points, four on rare jump shots. Felicio had attempted three all season and the Hornets defenders stayed well away from him. Still, the Bulls were not able to get first quarter traction until the substitutions as they fell behind 24-17. The Bulls then began what would be an 18-2  run into the second quarter with smart penetration from Noah Vonleh driving to the basket and Nwaba with another three. That enabled the Bulls to lead 29-26 after one quarter with 55 percent shooting and three of four threes. The Bulls closed their run with a Portis three for a 35-26 lead early in the second quarter. Behind Walker’s driving play, the Hornets rallied back to lead 44-43. But it was Felicio with a transition finish on a pass from Valentine and a nice spinning bank shot to match his season high with 12 points in the first half. The Bulls were too often casual in transition, but they were tied 51-51 at halftime despite three of 15 shooting from Dunn and LaVine combined. With Markkanen, the trio was five of 20 in the first half with, one again, the team best in plus/minus with the reserves playing with Nwaba. The Bulls were somewhat better moving the ball with 14 first half assists.

It was yet another poor third quarter start, however, from the starters. Though Felicio was effective offensively, he continued to be slow in transition with Howard repeatedly getting lob dunks. Also, Walker was having his way against Dunn as the Hornets took a 71-63 lead with 5:12 left in the third quarter. The Bulls had a chance to extend a 55-53 lead earlier, but committed four turnovers in five possessions with Felicio twice missing LaVine passes and then LaVine shooting an air ball and committing an offensive foul. Howard then lob dunked a pair against Portis. LaVine came back with a pair of inside scores, the second on a fast break layup as the Bulls went into the fourth quarter trailing 87-78. After Howard scored five times against Portis down the stretch of the third, Portis made a jumper and a three and appeared to begin taunting Howard, who was laughing. The Hornets remained in a good mood in the fourth quarter as the Bulls offense went slack to start the fourth quarter as they fell behind by double digits and 101-85 as the Bulls reverted to individual and isolation play. The Bulls made a run behind Dunn penetrating and LaVine shooting to get within 105-95 with 4:26 left. But a quick Hornets three and three-point play left little doubt about the outcome.