6 p.m. CT, NBC Sports Chicago
The Charlotte Hornets will be without the services of two of their key big men Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky III tonight. Zeller suffered a torn medial meniscus in his left knee on Wednesday and is out indefinitely. Kaminsky is day-to-day with a right ankle issue.
Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is on a leave of absence to address undisclosed health issues. Stephen Silas will coach in the interim.
Nikola Mirotic....not Michael Jordan. Sorry to get everybody’s hopes up.
The man with the repaired facial fractures makes his triumphant return to the NBA hardwood in the Bulls matchup tonight against the Charlotte Hornets after sitting out the first 23 games of the season with his injury.
Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has taken a hands-off approach to the entire situation, so do you really think he would adjust his entire rotation to avoid having Mirotic play with his assailant Bobby Portis? Besides, Mirotic apparently doesn’t harbor any ill feelings towards Portis anymore. Per Chicago Tribune writer K.C. Johnson.
“I’m not angry at anyone,” Mirotic said. “I’m doing fine with myself. My family is great. There’s nothing to be angry about now. It’s all over. It’s a new beginning.”
Because people love drama, everything else that goes down in the game tonight will become a subplot to Mirotic’s return and how he plays/interacts with Portis.
However, that doesn’t mean the game tonight isn’t important. After dropping their tenth-straight game on Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers, maybe the Bulls need that winning feeling again for the sake of locker room moral.
And tonight, the Hornets are more vulnerable than usual with key big men Kaminsky and Zeller missing the game. Their absences will thrust rookie Dwayne Bacon, second-year player Treveon Graham, and seldom-used Johnny O’Bryant III into prominent roles. Might be a soft opening for Mirotic to have his debut against.
The Bulls last win was against these very same Hornets, where a Kemba Walker blown layup at the end of the game prevented the Bulls losing streak to actually be 16 games. Despite the final miss, Walker blasted the Bulls for 47 points in that game as neither the normally reliable defender Kris Dunn nor his less reliable counterpart Jerian Grant had an answer for the Hornets star. But Lauri Markkanen showed great defense on that final shot, plus Dunn had a very good game offensively.
Unlike the last matchup, tonight Bulls fans will get to see much-maligned former point guard Michael Carter-Williams. It’s hard to believe, but Carter-Williams’ 39.7 percent effective field goal percentage is four percent worse than last year, yet the Hornets continue to trot him out there for 17.8 minutes per game.
The Bulls have a tough slate of games moving forward (matchups against the Porzingis-back New York Knicks, Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers respectively over the next 12 days) before the schedule softens briefly for a Dec. 20 matchup against the Orlando Magic.
The game tonight, especially considering the Hornets injury woes, is the Bulls most winnable game for awhile, so maybe they should take advantage of it and get out of the tank for one night.