Rondo, Mirotic step forward to help Bulls end losing streak

A lineup change and a card game helped the Bulls snap their five-game losing streak Monday.

Rajon Rondo returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 30 and provided a spark. Nikola Mirotic got back on the floor after sitting out the previous three games and led the Bulls with 24 points.

It all led to a 115-109 victory at Charlotte, which put an end to the Bulls' slide from playoff position. Will it be a true turnaround, or only temporary?

"Guys were locked in. I give them credit," Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters after the game. "It doesn't mean anything unless we take it home and continue to play this way."

That's been the Bulls' biggest problem all year. They've turned things around a few times, but haven't sustained success. Earlier this season, Mirotic was benched for a couple games, then came back and played well, but it didn't last long.

Rondo delivered in a big way against the Hornets, finishing with 20 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He even knocked down 3 baskets from 3-point range early in the contest.

Rondo has had games like these, but there's a reason he was removed from the starting lineup. He had too many quiet games and opponents didn't respect his outside shot.

"That (starting Rondo) was where it started," Hoiberg said. "That got our pace going, it got us off to a great start. I thought he was terrific both halves."

Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade scored 23 points each, with Butler adding 11 assists. Wade said after the game the players tried to put Sunday's ugly loss in Boston behind them by getting together to play a card game called, "Guts."

This was the first time the Bulls had four 20-point scorers in the same game since Jan. 16, 2006, when Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni and Joe Smith broke 20. It was the first time they had three guys with at least 20 points and 5 assists since April 2, 2004 - Jamal Crawford, Kirk Hinrich and Jannero Pargo.

With Rondo pushing the pace, the Bulls scored 36 points in the first quarter against Charlotte. In Sunday's loss at Boston, the Bulls scored 9 points in the first quarter and had 26 at halftime.

"It was a beautiful thing to watch," Hoiberg said. "That's what I said, 'Put this thing on a loop guys, that's how we want to play.' We were sharing it, we were making the unselfish play, it wasn't sticking in guys' hands. We were getting into the paint and kicking it out with great spacing on the back side. It's how you want to do it. Hopefully we can bottle this up and continue it for the rest of the year."

The Bulls (32-35) led most of the way. They started out red hot from long range, hitting 11 of their first 19 shots from 3-point range. They finished with a franchise-record 40 3-point attempts, making 14.

Hoiberg shortened the rotation a bit. Jerian Grant and Paul Zipser didn't play at all. Joffrey Lauvergne logged just 3 minutes with Mirotic playing well. Cameron Payne was the backup point guard and rookie Denzel Valentine scored 11 points in 28 minutes.

"If you're a competitor, you're going to bounce back with effort," Hoiberg said. "It's humiliating. You're playing on national TV, you have 2 points with six minutes to go in the first quarter. I think our guys took it personal. I think our guys really paid attention in the film session. We had a great meeting this morning, talked a lot about doing the little things better - moving the ball, getting back in transition."

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Associated PressChicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic reacts after a three-pointer as Chicago plays the Charlotte Hornets in the second half of a game in Charlotte, N.C., Monday. The Bulls won 115-109.
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