CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Bulls have their moments. Just way too few of them.
With their Big Three intact after Zach LaVine returned to the starting lineup, the Bulls tried to parlay one four-minute spurt in the first half into a victory — and, of course, it wasn’t nearly enough in a 118-103 loss Tuesday to the Hornets at Spectrum Center.
Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis and the second unit provided the spark in an 18-2 run during a 3:54 span covering the first and second quarters to give the Bulls a 35-26 lead with 11:09 left in the first half.
But the Bulls faded from there, as Hornets guard Kemba Walker (31 points, 11-for-19 shooting) and rejuvenated center Dwight Howard (24 points, 10-for-12 shooting, five blocks in 29 minutes) dominated to lead the Hornets (28-33) to their fifth consecutive victory. The Bulls (20-41) have lost five in a row and 13 of their last 15 games.
“We keep doing the same thing; it’s like a broken record,” said LaVine, who scored 21 points on 7-for-19 shooting after sitting out the loss to the Nets on Monday. “We said at halftime — it’s upsetting that we’re trying to figure out what it is we can do to try to play our little runs out and not have them just blow it open. Eventually you figure it out. But we want to do it sooner than later.”
Frank Kaminsky, the former Benet and Wisconsin star, made two three-pointers and scored nine points in the second quarter to rally the Hornets into a 51-51 tie at halftime. And Howard nearly single-handedly carried the Hornets to an 87-78 lead after three quarters.
As coach Fred Hoiberg noted, the Bulls have led at halftime against the Nets (51-49), 76ers (69-67) and Timberwolves (62-60) and were tied with the Hornets — and lost every game. Turnovers were the culprit this time. The Bulls had 20 of them — 12 in the second half.
“That was sloppiness,” Hoiberg said. “We’re playing some really good stretches, [but] we’re not sustaining it right now. When you turn it over 12 times in the second half against a team that’s hot like this, on the road, you’re not going to win.”
All nine Bulls who played scored in the first half, led by center Cristiano Felicio, who had 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting. He outscored Howard, who had six points at halftime.
It was a different story after that. Felicio was scoreless in the second half — 0-for-2 from the field, with his first second-half attempt blocked by Howard. And Howard scored at will — 16 points in the third quarter — to overwhelm the Bulls.
“I think it’s being young,” Valentine said. “We’ve got to learn how to play smarter and better and together when we have leads and when we’re playing the right way. We’ve just got to learn from these games and go from there.”
The Bulls had seven players in double figures: LaVine, Valentine (14), Portis (12), Felicio, David Nwaba (11), Lauri Markkanen (11) and Kris Dunn (10). But this was not a night to celebrate balance. Dunn, coming off a 23-point game against the Nets, shot 2-for-10 from the field and had four points through three quarters.
“I wasn’t hitting shots,” Dunn said. “They made it more difficult for me than the previous two times we played against them, and basically that was it.”
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