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Preview: Hornets host Bulls following six-day layoff

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Charlotte hasn’t seen game action since last Saturday after Wednesday’s matchup with the Washington Wizards was postponed

Charlotte Hornets v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (6-8) vs. Chicago Bulls (6-8)

When: 7:00 pm EST

Where: Spectrum Center; Charlotte, N.C.

How to watch: Fox Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

It’s been a long break, but the Charlotte Hornets are finally scheduled to play a game this evening. Since leaving Tampa last weekend following a two-game series against the Toronto Raptors, the Hornets have had lots of practice time after Wednesday’s game against Washington was postponed due the COVID-19 outbreak among the Wizards players.

Zach Lavine comes into tonight’s contest averaging 27.4 points per game—good for fifth in the NBA—on career-best shooting efficiency. Splits of 49.8/38.7/86.2 are impressive given his 29.1 percent usage rate and he’s developed quite a bit as a playmaker under new head coach Billy Donovan. His 5.3 assists per game are another career-high, and his 24.6 assist percentage is second only to his rookie season.

That was all to say; Lavine has improved under Donovan, as have most of Chicago’s young players. Lauri Markkanen, who’s only played seven games due to injury, is also shooting career-high percentages from the field and from deep on the highest volume he’s had since his breakout sophomore season. Coby White is averaging 16 points, five rebounds and six assists with a 2.02 assist-to-turnover ratio. Daniel Gafford looks the part of a rotational center, and West Charlotte High School graduate Patrick Williams appears worthy of the No. 4 overall selection so far. The Bulls are finally on an upward trajectory after years of mediocrity.

The Hornets and Bulls are currently on opposite ends of the NBA spectrum despite each team sitting at 6-8. Charlotte is trying to snap a three-game skid, while Chicago is trying to win their third game in a row. The Bulls are an above-average offense and the 28th-ranked defense, but the Hornets are a top-10 defense and bottom-10 offense. Surprisingly enough, Chicago plays faster than the Hornets; they rank second in pace of play, and per Inpredictable, the Bulls are fifth in the league averaging 13.8 seconds per possession, while the Hornets are 11th at 14 seconds per possession. Tonight should be a fun matchup, especially given the rest and preparation time each team had going into it.

The Bulls could be missing two important rotation pieces tonight; Wendell Carter Jr. (thigh) is listed as doubtful, while Williams (hip) is probable.

The biggest bit of Hornets news from the last few days is that Cody Zeller is expected to return with no minutes restriction tonight against the Chicago Bulls. The starting lineup hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s safe to assume he’ll start if he’s healthy enough to play regular minutes after fracturing his hand on opening night. PJ Washington also said during media availability that he tweaked his ankle and missed a practice this week, but he’ll be ready to go tonight.

With Zeller back in the fold, Borrego’s handling of Bismack Biyombo’s playing time will be worth watching. Biyombo’s role was not supposed to entail him playing 26.9 minutes per game, but it would be surprising for him to be benched outright upon Zeller’s return. Biz will probably play tonight, which means that some combination of Caleb Martin, Cody Martin, Jalen McDaniels and/or Malik Monk will not be playing (unless there’s garbage time).

For the first time since opening night, the Hornets’ injury report is squeaky clean.

The Hornets will don their Mint City uniforms tonight as a part of “EmpowerMINT Night,” which focuses on the organization’s efforts to address the systemic problems that plague our communities. Good on them for taking a stance and spreading awareness about things that loads of Charlotteans are affected by.

This is a real “rest vs. rust” game. Did the Hornets get too long of a break from live game action? Or did the extra practice time help them iron out some issues? Only time will tell.