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Preview: Ball Brothers sidelined with injury as Hornets meet Bulls

No wonder ESPN flexed this game out of the national spotlight.

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

What: Charlotte Hornets (3-4) at Chicago Bulls (4-4)

When: 8:00 pm EDT

Where: United Center; Chicago, Ill.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Outfitting: Hornets-Statement (purple); Bulls-Association (white)

Injury report:

CHA: LaMelo Ball (left ankle sprain), OUT; Cody Martin (left quad soreness), DOUBTFUL; Terry Rozier (right ankle sprain), DOUBTFUL.

CHI: Lonzo Ball (knee surgery), OUT; Andre Drummond (shoulder), DOUBTFUL; Zach LaVine (knee management), DOUBTFUL; Coby White (quad), DOUBTFUL.

In what was originally slated to be a nationally-televised matchup on ESPN, the Hornets and Bulls will revert back to trusty ol’ Bally Sports and League Pass. The main attractions for a Hornets-Bulls game are obviously LaMelo and Lonzo Ball, both of whom will be out tonight. Given that two of the biggest names are injured and both teams are hovering around .500, it makes sense that the league and its television partners opted for Celtics-Cavaliers instead.

The Bulls enter tonight’s contest on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Nets on Tuesday, mere hours after the Steve Nash firing. Zach LaVine, who dropped 29 points, five assists and four rebounds in Brooklyn, will sit against the Hornets as he and the team manage his knee injury in the early-going. Chicago will likely start Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso in the backcourt with DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Williams and Nikola Vučević rounding out the starting five.

Through eight games, Chicago has the 22nd-ranked offense and 10th-ranked defense, slotting in at 15th in net rating. Ball being unavailable into the regular season is certainly not what they’d hoped for, and coupled with LaVine’s own injury problems, its left the Bulls with a thin guard rotation as they look to maximize the window they have to compete in the East. Caruso has quickly reminded the league how impactful he is defensively after missing the latter half of last season and Dosunmu has been excellent for a second-year point guard, but Goran Dragic just isn’t the same player anymore. Until the Bulls are healthy, Caruso and Dosunmu are going to do a lot of heavy-lifting on defense and offense, respectively.

Javonte Green has developed into a solid role-player with Chicago after being traded from Boston at the 2020-21 trade deadline. With the strength and athleticism to play both forward spots, Green looks to have surpassed Derrick Jones Jr. in the rotation and cemented himself as Williams’ Energizer Bunny-like backup. Happy that head coach Steve Clifford gets to see his pal Vooch nail some above-the-break threes and find cutters from the elbow in-person once again.

The Hornets are still without three key players and will need standout performances from the likes of Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., Nick Richards, Dennis Smith Jr. and PJ Washington to stay afloat. Chicago is currently 10th in three-point percentage (36.8) but only 29th in three-point attempts per game (28.9); if the Hornets can keep up the off-ball activity, score points off turnovers and limit the amount of uncontested looks the Bulls get from downtown, there’s a good chance that the offense — which has plummeted to 18th in rating over the last few games — can keep up.

In other news, the Hornets assigned Bryce McGowens and Mark Williams to the Greensboro Swarm prior to the 2022-23 G League season opening on Friday. Théo Maledon has shown more NBA-readiness in his minutes than McGowens and Williams is buried in the depth chart. It’s better in the long-term for them to receive real minutes with the Swarm rather than riding the bench until garbage time in Charlotte.