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Preview: Hornets make a jaunt over to Chicago to meet with Bulls

PJ is definitely winning the basketball tug-of-war in the lead art.

Chicago Bulls v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (15-37) at Chicago Bulls (23-27)

When: 8:00 PM EST

Where: United Center; Chicago, Ill.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Outfitting: Hornets — City (granite); Bulls — Association (white)

Injury report

CHA: James Bouknight (G League assignment), OUT; Kai Jones (G League assignment), OUT; Cody Martin (knee soreness), OUT; Kelly Oubre Jr. (hand surgery), OUT.

CHI: Lonzo Ball (knee surgery), OUT; Javonte Green (knee), OUT; Marko Simonović (G League assignment), OUT; Dalen Terry (G League assignment), OUT.

It’s just a hop, skip and a jump down I-94 for the Charlotte Hornets as they face the Chicago Bulls following a defeat in Milwaukee two nights ago.

The Hornets and Bulls split the first two games of the season series, with Chicago winning 106-88 on Nov. 2, 2022 and the Hornets taking a 111-96 victory last week. After tonight, one more matchup awaits on March 31 at the Spectrum Center. Terry Rozier had 28 points and shot 4-8 from deep and Mason Plumlee put up 21 and 12 rebounds in last week’s win. Chicago has lost three of their last four games, the second of which was to the Hornets.

Obviously, Charlotte has a worse record and a less talented roster from top-to-bottom than Chicago, but the Bulls have easily been the most disappointing team in the NBA. Starting the season with aspirations of a deep playoff run, the Bulls are four games below .500 and sit 11th in the East as the trade deadline approaches. Zach LaVine’s impact has taken a steep drop-off as his explosiveness begins to fade, and DeMar DeRozan only uplifts an offense so much as a shot creator that doesn’t space the floor. Lonzo Ball has yet to play this season and is “nowhere close” to a return due to an extremely unfortunate, nagging knee injury.

As a result, Chicago ranks 22nd in offense after finishing last season in 13th with mostly the same roster. The Bulls’ defense ranks 12th league-wide, but they’re 25th in opponent three-pointers made per game (13.1), leaving them vulnerable to scintillating shooting performances and barn-storming comebacks (Indiana came back from a 21-point deficit to beat them last week) despite having an above-average defensive rating. Alex Caruso and Andre Drummond have both surfaced in the rumor mill as Chicago is essentially forced into a playoff push with this core; Orlando owns the Bulls’ first-round pick in 2023, which currently has the seventh-best lottery odds. Chicago has zero incentive not to push the chips in and see how far DeRozan and LaVine can take them this spring.

The Hornets ended up with a best-of-both-worlds result last time out; those who want to see competitive games were rewarded with a close loss to a Finals contender, and those who want losses to stack up and boost those lottery odds were satisfied. LaMelo Ball became the all-time franchise leader triple-doubles with the eighth of his career. Let’s hope we get to see many, many more of those in the future.