Bulls rally, then squander late lead at Charlotte in season opener

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen dunks against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019.

    Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen dunks against the Charlotte Hornets during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Charlotte, N.C., Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/23/2019 10:20 PM

The Bulls did things good and bad during the season opener at Charlotte. Maybe the most important take-away is this: Never lose sight of the clock.

The Bulls recovered from a poor effort in the first half to take a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter, but there were still six minutes left on the clock. The Bulls let the Hornets buzz back down the stretch, then went for the 2-point basket while trailing by 3 one too many times and lost 126-125 on Wednesday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Lauri Markkanen delivered a monster effort with 35 points and 17 rebounds, but the Bulls messed up too many important details to pull out a win over the rebuilding Hornets.

"When he gets 35 and 17, we need to win," Bulls coach Jim Boylen told reporters after the game. "When he plays hard like that, he's a very good player."

Rookie Coby White and veteran Thaddeus Young scored 17 points each. Zach LaVine missed shots early, then rallied a bit to finish with 16 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds.

The true story of this game, though, was Charlotte blitzing the Bulls with a young, fast lineup. Rookie P.J. Washington (27 points), center Cody Zeller (15 points, 12 rebounds) and a couple of former second-round picks, Dwayne Bacon and Devonte Graham, made the Bulls look slow and sluggish.

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The Hornets spread the floor, beat the Bulls off the dribble and usually kicked it out to a wide-open teammate who buried a 3-pointer. Charlotte made 23 of 44 shots from long range on the night.

"We didn't communicate the way we want to, so they got a couple of open looks and they definitely got comfortable," Markkanen said in the locker room. "Then it didn't matter even if our hand was up, they were making shots. Way too many 3s."

One reason why Markkanen did so well offensively was because he had a 5-inch height advantage on Washington.

But the Bulls lost the overall battle. Their plan was to be a fast-paced, 3-point heavy team this season. The Bulls shot just 30 percent from 3-point land (9 of 30), while the game seemed to move too fast for Otto Porter (9 points, 2 rebounds) and Tomas Satoransky (2 points, 3 assists).

The Bulls did recover from a 16-point deficit. In the second half, they were able to make defensive stands, got some fast breaks after turnovers and scored 40 points in the third quarter. But they should have put it away with a 118-108 lead and 6:19 to go.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The Bulls had two chances to stretch the 10-point advantage and turned it over both times. Then Graham (23 points, 8 assists) buried a pair of 3-pointers and it was suddenly a 4-point game.

"I think we played into their hands a little bit," LaVine said. "We were up 10 and we started running, kept going up and down. I think we helped them get back in the game. Very frustrated, but we've got to figure out what we're going to do and get this next game."

Boylen stuck with Kris Dunn (12 points) and White for a while in the fourth quarter, since they were playing well. But the offense stalled. LaVine and Porter missed 3s, then the Bulls committed a shot-clock violation. The Hornets took the lead on a Zellar dunk with 1:40 left. Then after a Bulls turnover, Bacon drained a 3 to make it a 4-point game.

"We've got to do a better job of executing down the stretch," Boylen said. "When the ball sticks, we're not as good a team. I thought the ball stuck a little bit at the end there."

Trailing by 3 in the final 20 seconds, the Bulls twice took a 2-point shot. The second, a layup by LaVine, came with just 4.5 seconds on the clock. A couple of Bulls collided on the ensuing inbound play and Charlotte ran the clock out.

"I was looking for the 3," LaVine said. "I knew there wasn't much time left, so I had to get something."

It was another mistake, but the Bulls did enough to lose this game long before that happened.

Twitter: @McGrawDHBulls

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