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Chicago Bulls vs. Charlotte Hornets Preview and Thread: One way or another, a losing streak ends tonight

The Bulls, losers of two straight, face off against MJ’s Hornets, losers of five straight

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls (33-21) vs. Charlotte Hornets (28-27)

Your banged-up Bulls will head to the Spectrum Center to do battle with Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets. The Bulls, who dropped consecutive contests to the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers, hope to return to their winning ways against a scrappy, athletic Hornets club, themselves losers of five straight.

All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine will look to keep the offensive fireworks coming, this time in a winning effort. Without the defense of Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso along the perimeter, and with a depleted and undersized rotation at the four-spot absent Patrick Williams and Derrick Jones Jr., the Bulls have been looking to beat opponents by simply outscoring them. For a team whose third-best offensive player is Nikola Vucevic, that can oftentimes be an effective strategy, especially against less-than-elite opponents.

Though Chicago had begun the season as a surprising defensive juggernaut, the team has slipped to a paltry 21st in defensive rating this year, thanks in no small part to the extended injury absences of its key players on that side of the ball. Fortunately, Charlotte is also terrible on that end of the floor, ranking 24th as of this writing.

The Bulls’ guard rotation will be thinner than usual tonight against the Hornets, as upstart rookie guard Ayo Dosunmu, who had been starting in the stead of Lonzo Ball, has been ruled out for tonight due to concussion protocols. Coby White will most likely get the starting nod at point guard in Dosunmu’s stead. White’s solid performance on a winning club this season (he’s averaging 12.9 points per game in just 27.1 minutes, while shooting 43.8% from the field, 36.5% from deep on volume, and 84.1 from the free-throw line) has helped him become an intriguing trade asset for Chicago, as he could see some roster squeeze when Chicago is fully healthy. Should the Bulls, who have plenty of depth issues, find a team with a need for a volume perimeter scorer off the bench, it might behoove them to move on from White.

Lonzo’s little brother is of course the head of the snake in Charlotte. Second-year stud LaMelo Ball, still just 20, was named as an injury replacement for Kevin Durant in this month’s All-Star Game. The younger Ball is an otherworldly passer and lethal transition scorer, and has seen his production blossom in his sophomore season. Through 48 games this year, LaMelo is averaging 19.5 points a night, while shooting 42.1% from the floor, 35.7% from three-point land (on a whopping 7.1 attempts), and 87.3% from the charity stripe. He’s also logging 7.5 assists, 7.1 boards, and 1.5 steals per game.

Forward Miles Bridges has emerged as probably the Most Improved Player favorite this season, enjoying a banner “F you, pay me” season unseen perhaps since the time the Bulls balked on terms for a pretty reasonable deal for Jimmy Butler during the 2014-15 NBA season, only to see him become a max-salaried All-Star. This season, Bridges is averaging 19.8 points (on 48.6% shooting), 7.2 boards, 3.5 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.9 blocks a night.

Charlotte got some bad news yesterday, when it was revealed that oft-injured $120 million forward Gordon Hayward would be out indefinitely due to sprained ligaments in his left ankle. P.J. Washington seems likely to earn the start in place of Hayward. Beyond Bridges, Ball and Hayward, the Hornets’ other key scoring threat is shooting guard Terry Rozier, averaging 18.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 46 games this year. In the front court, look for the Bulls to get center Nikola Vucevic going early against spring Hornets starting center Mason Plumlee.

During the two teams’ only prior meeting this season, Chicago won in a high-scoring effort, 133-119, on November 29th. But the Bulls had nearly their full compliment of players then, including Ball, Caruso and Jones. Vucevic, DeRozan, and LaVine combined for a whopping 83 of Chicago’s points. Happier times.

Chicago, which has gone a middling 5-5 in its last ten games, is hoping to right the ship in its final bout ahead of the NBA trade deadline tomorrow afternoon. Whether the Bulls’ front office brain trust of team president Arturas Karnisovas and GM Marc Eversley opts to make another blockbuster deal or improve the club around the margins remains to be seen. Check out the latest rumors and speculation on where the Bulls stand here.

Injury Report: Dosunmu joins usual suspects Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso on the sidelines for Chicago. Derrick Jones Jr. and the (ahem) still pretty tradable Patrick Williams also remain out-of-commission with their respective long-term injuries.

For the Hornets, Gordon Hayward, Cody Martin and Jalen McDaniels are all out. James Bouknight is doubtful with a right wrist sprain.

Game Time: 7:30pm CDT, ESPN and NBC Sports Chicago