Decisions, decisions ... Bulls make the wrong ones in loss to Hornets

Guard Zach LaVine’s layup with 4.5 seconds left was a debatable play, but what wasn’t up for debate was why the Bulls found themselves in that position in the first place.

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The Bulls’ Zach LaVine walks off the court during the season opener in Charlotte.

The Bulls’ Zach LaVine walks off the court during the season opener in Charlotte.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

CHARLOTTE — Maybe guard Zach LaVine should’ve kicked it out for a three-pointer.

Or maybe he made the right play by going in for a layup and hoping for a foul or an eventual steal by his defense.

It’s all debatable.

Not up for debate is losing the season opener to the Hornets, whom the Bulls outclassed at almost every position, and falling in somewhat embarrassing fashion Wednesday night at the Spectrum Center.

Trailing by three with 11.3 seconds left and no timeouts, LaVine gave the three-point attempt a quick glance, but when that avenue was blocked by Marvin Williams on the switch, he opted to attack the rim. LaVine seemed to hesitate a split-second, thinking about a kick-out to a teammate for the three, but he made the layup with 4.5 seconds left, cutting the lead to one.

Charlotte called a timeout and was able to play keep-away in the final seconds, sending the Bulls to heartbreak and a 126-125 loss.

“I knew we were down by three,’’ LaVine said. “I was looking for the three; that’s what I always look for. Marvin Williams stepped out and they switched, so I knew there wasn’t that much time left. I had to get something. I knew they weren’t going to foul me at the rim, and if they did, it could have been an and-one opportunity. Just trying to get something, then play the foul game.

“I tried to make a play, got what I could.’’

And the Bulls got what they deserved.

They got off to a slow start offensively and allowed the Hornets to attack them at the rim and from the three-point line most of the game. And just like that, all the excitement of a new beginning in Year 3 of the rebuild fizzled out.

“Yeah, or pull up and shoot it [from three],’’ coach Jim Boylen said when asked if LaVine should’ve played for the three-pointer. “He tried to get to the rim. He was hoping it was, like, six seconds [left], and it was 4.5. I thought he tried. We executed where he got to the rim. Sometimes nobody comes, and you lay it up. That happens.’’

The Bulls’ persistent defensive problems were harder to explain away.

There were plenty of reasons provided after the loss — communication, effort, lack of help — but to play so badly in the first half, come back to take a 10-point lead with 6:19 left, then collapse?

“We played into their hands a little bit,’’ LaVine said. “We were up 10 and kept going up and down. I think we helped them get back into the game. If you have a 10-point lead, and you come back, you gotta hold on to it. That was our problem last year. . . . Like I said, very frustrating, but we gotta figure out what we’re doing moving forward and get this next game.’’

Almost lost in the defeat was a huge bright spot: Lauri Markkanen had 35 points and 17 rebounds.

Unfortunately, the third-year big man could only focus on what went wrong.

“I don’t think we communicated well enough [on defense],’’ Markkanen said. “That’s the biggest problem. The good thing is that’s easily fixed.’’

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