Charlotte Hornets at Chicago Bulls Preview
Thursday will be the first day the NBA is back from the All-Star break and we will see an Eastern Conference matchup between the Hornets and Bulls. Both teams sit 15+ games under .500 but due to the lack of depth in the East, they are both less than 6 games out of the 8th seed. It’s crazy to think that two sub-par teams with under 20 wins at the All-Star break are actually just as close to being the 8 seed as they are to being 15th in the East. If either team wants to make a run at that playoff spot it starts now. This game could be a catalyst towards a miracle run but it is much more likely that we see both of these teams near the top of the draft at the end of the year.
Time: 7 PM CST
Arena: United Center, Chicago, IL
Channel: NBC Sports Chicago, Fox Sports Carolina
Hornets: Cody Martin (Questionable), Terry Rozier (Questionable)
Bulls: Wendell Carter (Out), Lauri Markkanen (Out), Kris Dunn (Out), Otto Porter (Out), Daniel Gafford (Questionable), Denzel Valentine (Questionable)
Charlotte Hornets Starting Lineup
The Hornets surprisingly went into the All-Star break on a good note winning their last two games before the break and staying relatively injury-free. This two-game winning streak also should be taken with a grain of salt due to the fact that they lost 13 out of their last 14 before that streak. They will look to pick up where they left off going into the break with a healthy roster.
Terry Rozier missed the Hornets’ last game before the break with knee troubles but is expected to return against the Bulls. Rozier has been a steady source of offense all year for Charlotte. He is averaging career-highs in points (17.8) and assists (4.1) while playing in every game up until the Hornets’ last contest against the Timberwolves. Rozier has shot the ball better than ever this year as well and has formed a solid offensive duo with Hornets’ leading scorer and break out player Devonte’ Graham.
Graham has made a huge jump in his sophomore season due to the increased opportunity on this thin Hornets roster. He is currently averaging 18 points and just under 8 assists a game and is a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player Award. Graham showed his progress against the Timberwolves putting up 28 points and 8 assists. Charlotte also received good production from Miles Bridges and Malik Monk. Bridges contributed 20 points and his play has been elevated as of late scoring in double figures his last 8 games (averaging 19.6 PPG over that stretch). Monk has also started to turn it up a bit more as of late giving the Hornets a big boost off the bench. He added 25 off the bench against Minnesota and has scored in double figures 9 out of his last 10; averaging 17.3 PPG over that span.
The Hornets aren’t a dominant team in any area expect for offensive rebounding ranking 2nd in the NBA with just over 11 offensive boards a game. Ironically, defensive rebounding is one of the many areas the Bulls lack in. The Bulls rank 29th in defensive rebounds per game and on top of that are still lacking key frontcourt players such as Wendell Carter, Lauri Markkanen, and possibly Daniel Gafford to injuries. This should be a big area of opportunity for the Hornets.
Unlike the Hornets, Chicago went into the break on a tough 6 game losing stream. The All-Star weekend hosts didn’t participate much in the festivities with no All-Stars to celebrate. It has been a season filled with turmoil in Chicago in a year that was supposed to be the beginning of the end of their current rebuild. This season had some slight playoff hopes in Chicago but that seems very unlikely despite only being 5.5 games out of the 8th seed. The Bulls will look to turn it around with a good start to the second half of the year.
With the All-Star festivities in Chicago, this team was under the microscope vastly more than they had been all year. Many figures in basketball openly criticized how poorly this Bulls rebuild has turned. Among all this come rumors of front office changes finally being made but instead of firing Gar Forman and possible John Paxson it seems that the Bulls will just reorganize their management rather than start fresh. There were numerous Fire GarPax chants at events throughout All-Star weekend, but it seems that the Bulls brass still is reluctant to do so and are content with keeping a coach that has been nothing but inefficient and has shown no sign of changing.
Amongst the internal struggles and the poor performance, the Bulls are also one of the most injury-riddled teams in the NBA. Key contributors such as Wendell Carter, Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Otto Porter are all currently sidelined amongst others. The Bulls should start to see these guys start to return soon except for Kris Dunn who suffered a knee injury just before the break and may be out for the remainder of the year.
The Bulls put up a lackluster performance in their final game prior to the break against an equally struggling team in the Wizards. Zach LaVine was virtually the one bright spot putting up 41 points on an efficient 15/21 from the field including 8 3-pointers. This was LaVine’s 5th 40-point performance of the year and Chicago will need a big game from him on Thursday.
Key Player Matchup
Devonte’ Graham vs Zach LaVine
This is not necessarily a direct matchup, in the sense that they most likely will not be matched up defensively, but is a battle between both teams offensive catalysts. Both team’s offenses rely on the performance of Graham and LaVine and whoever has the more impactful game may dictate who wins the matchup.
Despite the low stakes of this game, there is some good value to go around. I expect a lot of volume from LaVine but the $9,200 price may be too heavy for me. I would rather go with Devonte’ Graham who is priced at just $6,700 despite only averaging ~5 less FPPG than LaVine and offering a more versatile skillset with his playmaking ability. Three other players I like in this matchup are Miles Bridges ($5,800), Tomas Satoransky ($5,300), and Mailk Monk ($4,900).
Bet on Matchup
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