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Bulls vs. Hornets final score: Chicago melts down late to suffer disappointing 126-125 loss in season opener

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yuck

Chicago Bulls v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Bulls had a terrific opportunity to start the season on a high note against a Hornets team that many (including myself) expect to be one of the worst teams in the league. Instead, the Bulls gagged away a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to suffer a disappointing 126-125 loss.

The Bulls were actually on the verge of getting blown out in the first half, going down by 16 points as Hornets rookie PJ Washington hit a barrage of 3-pointers to get Charlotte going offensively. However, the Bulls ended the half on an 8-0 run, and the momentum surged into the second half. They scored 40 points in the third quarter and then finally put together a string of defensive stops, with Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter Jr. wrecking havoc to open up a 10-point lead. When Zach LaVine finally hit his first 3-pointer of the game to make it 118-108 with 6:19 to play, it felt like the Bulls were about to run away with it.

Unfortunately, Devonte’ Graham answered with a pair of 3-pointers of his own as part of a terrific performance off the bench in relief of the awful Terry Rozier. The Bulls’ offense then came unglued, with poor LaVine decision-making and some botched bunnies plaguing them down the stretch. The Bulls finally got Lauri Markkanen involved again (more on him in a bit), and he did a nice job getting to the free-throw line to score.

It wasn’t enough, though, as there just weren’t enough stops. Dwayne Bacon’s triple with just over a minute to play was a real backbreaker, and it was the Hornets’ 23rd 3-pointer of the night, a franchise record. After all the talk of the Bulls running and gunning, it was the Hornets who were more effective launching from distance (Bulls were only 9-of-30, Hornets took 44). While they had trouble taking care of the ball (19 turnovers for 29 Bulls points), the Hornets’ ball movement had the Bulls all out of sorts, leading to good looks from distance. Of course, Washington (team-high 27 points), Graham (23 points) and Marvin Williams (17 points) combining to go 18-of-25 is ridiculous and unlucky, but that doesn’t mean the Bulls’ defense wasn’t bad.

The Bulls did have a chance to tie the game in the waning moments, but LaVine capped off an ugly game with a head-scratching decision, going for a layup with 4.5 seconds left despite not having any timeouts left. It was the Bulls’ first basket since that aforementioned 3-pointer. LaVine then tripped (got fouled?) on the inbounds pass, allowing the Hornets to easily pass the ball to the backcourt before running out the clock.

As mentioned, LaVine had a rough game after going scorched earth in the preseason. He managed just 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting overall and 1-of-4 from 3. He added seven assists and six rebounds, but he also turned the ball over five times, was bad defensively and was off with his decisions all night. Some early foul trouble didn’t help matters, but this was a truly disappointing effort as he tries to embark on an All-Star campaign.

On a positive note, Markkanen was a monster, finishing with 35 points on 13-of-25 shooting to go along with 17 rebounds:

While Markkanen didn’t shoot well from outside (1-of-7), he clearly got the memo he needed to attack the basket more aggressively after an underwhelming preseason. The Bulls made it a point to go to him early and often, and he did a terrific job scoring inside the arc, finishing with an array of moves (Bulls had 78 points in the paint as a team). The 8-of-10 mark from the free-throw line is also a great sign, because he has never been one to get to the line a whole lot.

There were other positives despite the ugly loss. Coby White had an outstanding debut, scoring 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting and even handing out seven assists, which was a major point of contention in the preseason. Dunn was stellar in his defensive pest role as White’s running mate off the bench, nabbing four steals and even scoring efficiently with 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting. Dunn had some crafty finishes around the basket and even converted on a pair of and-1s, though he missed one of the free throws. This continues to look like a good role for him.

Out of the free-agent acquisitions, Thaddeus Young was the only notable performance. Young had 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting and was a plus-12. He even knocked down three 3-pointers, including a banked triple in the fourth quarter.

Tomas Satoransky was quiet in his starting role outside of a few heady plays, while Luke Kornet was mostly a disaster in his seven minutes.

This loss is a major downer considering the hype surrounding the Bulls heading into this season. They didn’t let us down in terms of delivering an entertaining 48 minutes of basketball, but poor defense and a failure to close doomed them. While they’ll certainly be a fun team to watch, they have some clear sore spots to clean up if they want to be a playoff team.