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Chicago Bulls vs. Charlotte Hornets game preview and open thread

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Zach LaVine is back, but let’s hope it doesn’t help

NBA: Chicago Bulls at Charlotte Hornets Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls (20-40) at Charlotte Hornets (27-33)

6 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago

Injury Report:

Paul Zipser is out again with a left foot injury.

The Hornets injury report is squeaky clean.

Previous Meetings:

The Bulls are actually 2-0 against the Charlotte Hornets this season.

Their third win of the season came on Nov. 17 against Charlotte in Chicago. Somehow, the Bulls absorbed a season-high 47 points from Hornets star Kemba Walker as neither Jerian Grant nor Kris Dunn had any solution to the problem of trying to guard him. Fresh off a short leave of absence due to the birth of his daughter, Justin Holiday countered with a season-high 27 points of his own as the Bulls were more well rounded offensively (six guys in double figure scoring) which helped them capture the victory.

On Dec. 8 in Nikola Mirotic’s first game back after the infamous punch from Bobby Portis, the Bulls pulled off a 119-111 overtime victory over Charlotte in what would become the first of seven wins in a row. Markkanen and Dunn led the way in the scoring department with 24 and 20 points respectively and dominated the overtime period to emerge with a victory.

Preview:

Everything the Hornets do offensively begins and ends with one of the more underrated superstars in the NBA.

Walker averages 22.9 points (17th in the NBA) and 5.8 assists per game (19th in the NBA) and the Hornets offensive rating is a whopping 12.5 points higher when he is on the floor than when he sits. He’s a lethal pick-and-roll player, averaging 1.03 points per possession as the pick-and-roll ball handler which is in the 89th percentile in the NBA. He also runs pick-and-rolls on over 50 percent of his possessions.

Outside of Walker, Nicolas Batum has been a high volume scorer his entire career and has averaged 11.9 points per game this season. At 6-foot-8-inches at the shooting guard position, he presents matchup problems against smaller guards and seeing how LaVine defends him is something to watch tonight. Jeremy Lamb is another gifted scorer, as he has thrived in a sixth man sparkplug scoring role for his entire career.

Offensively, the Hornets do a lot of things average (14th in offensive rating). However, they don’t turn the ball over (second in the NBA in turnover percentage), and they get to the free throw line at an extremely healthy rate (30.6 percent free throw rate, although they shoot the ball at a 73.7 percent clip when they get there, thanks Dwight Howard!).

As for the Bulls, with Zach LaVine returning to the lineup after missing the first game of the back-to-back, the offense should look a little prettier than last night. LaVine has played well since his return from injury, although there’s lingering questions about how his ball-dominant style stunts Markkanen’s growth. When the two share the floor, the Bulls are 10.7 points worse per 100 possessions than their opponents.

After awful nights against the Nets yesterday (these players combined to shoot 9-for-37 from the field last night), Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and Cameron Payne will all be looking for better efforts tonight. Portis has been the Bulls X-factor all season because teams can’t focus their game plan around him because of the presence of Dunn, LaVine, and Markkanen yet he’s capable of taking over a game on offense. His true shooting percentage and offensive rating have been significantly higher in wins than in losses this season.

This is a trap game for the Bulls. The Hornets aren’t front and center in the tanking race yet they are bad enough of a team that the Bulls could mess around and score a win if they aren’t careful.