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Back to reality at the United Center: Bulls lose 7th straight

Zach LaVine shoots 8-for-22 from the field as the sluggish Bulls trail virtually wire-to-wire in a loss to the lowly Hornets.

Bulls guard Coby White (0) defends against Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham in the Bulls’ 103-93 loss Thursday night at the United Center.

The comedown from the All-Star Game on Sunday night to the Hornets-Bulls game Thursday night was palpable. On Sunday, there were 24 All-Stars on the court. On Thursday, there were zero — with apologies to near-miss Zach LaVine.

The Bulls and Hornets, in fact, are two of five teams that have no All-Star Game appearances on their rosters. Or let’s put it this way: On Sunday, there were $2.5 billion in NBA contracts on the United Center floor. On Thursday, only $525 million.

So after one of the most entertaining finishes in All-Star Game history, the Bulls brought Chicago back to reality. They are a struggling, injury-riddled team spinning its wheels in a never-ending search for NBA relevance.

And it showed again against the Hornets. Without Lauri Markkanen, Otto Porter Jr., Wendell Carter Jr., Kris Dunn and Denzel Valentine, the Bulls lost 103-93 before 17,463.

Thaddeus Young scored 22 points and LaVine added 19 on 8-for-22 shooting as the Bulls (19-37) lost their seventh straight game but moved ahead of the Hornets and into seventh place in the draft-lottery race.

Though the Bulls’ plight has been well-documented, they still managed to disappoint.

With both sub-.500 teams coming off virtual eight-day All-Star breaks, the Hornets (19-36) came out energized, and the Bulls came out flat.

The Bulls trailed 33-20 after one quarter and 60-44 at halftime. They were 0-for-15 from three-point range in the first half and missed their first 17 overall until LaVine made one in the third quarter.

“We were sluggish in the first half,” coach Jim Boylen said.

“We just seemed to be a step slow, kind of getting our legs underneath us. I don’t know exactly why.”

Young was the only Bull who was consistently effective. He was 10-for-18 from the field and had 11 rebounds.

LaVine tried to make the most of his own sluggish performance but didn’t have his touch after the Bulls got within 70-68 on a Coby White three-point play with 3:05 left in the third quarter. He finished 1-for-7 on three-point shots.

“First game back, they jumped on us,” LaVine said. “We came back in the third quarter. [But] we didn’t play with the same energy throughout the game. I think everybody was a step slow.”

Boylen refused to use the Bulls’ injuries as an excuse, for the most part.

“I don’t try to go there,” he said. “I try to coach the guys we have as hard as I can.

‘‘So I’m not going to get caught up in what could be or what we should have done or could have done. I just think it’s a dead end.”

As LaVine noted, the Bulls shut out Hornets leading scorer Devonte’ Graham

(0-for-7 shooting, 0-for-5 on three-pointers), but Malik Monk scored 25 points off the bench.

“It sucks,” LaVine said. “We’ve got to be able to [stop] that.”

Asked if the slow start was perplexing, LaVine told it like it was.

“No,” he said, “because we’ve been having these ups and downs all year. So I don’t think anything’s new now.”