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Big Ballers collide: Lonzo’s Bulls pull away from LaMelo’s Hornets

Another showdown between Lonzo and LaMelo Ball ends in big brother getting the victory. Nikola Vucevic, Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan combined for 83 points.

The battles on the backyard court in California were too numerous to count over the years, let alone remember who had whose number.

It has been much easier to figure out since younger brother LaMelo was drafted by Charlotte last season.

After Monday, big brother still had bragging rights.

Thanks to as well-rounded an offensive attack as the Bulls have had this season, Lonzo Ball is now 2-1 against LaMelo at the pro level as the Bulls pulled away late from the Hornets at the United Center 133-119.

As far as the Lonzo vs. LaMelo subplot? Lonzo finished with 16 points and eight assists, while LaMelo had 18 points with 13 assists.

What couldn’t be debated is just how unique both the Ball brothers play the game: the court vision, the complete unselfishness and the way they can affect the game just by passing and understanding spacing.

That’s why when Lonzo was asked about younger brother, the word “unique’’ was the best way he could describe him.

“I think his uniqueness,’’ Lonzo said when breaking down LaMelo’s game. “I think he plays how he wants to play. And he’s been doing that his whole life. Just a different kind of style of play, but it works for him.’’

It works for Lonzo, as well.

The Bulls (14-8) and coach Billy Donovan have witnessed that this entire season.

“I don’t think you can teach what he does because he plays so instinctive,’’ Donovan said of Lonzo. “And a lot of times when you have to make those quick decisions, you can watch tape the next day, you can slow it down and the player can say, ‘Oh, I should have thrown it here, I should have thrown it there,’ but in the heat of a play like that, that’s happening so quick and the decision you have to make, that’s incredibly instinctive on his part.

“I do think when players are in the NBA and they understand rotations, they understand they can get better at those kinds of reads, but I think the instinctual passing that Lonzo has, he’s kind of always had that.’’

A skill set both the brothers fully displayed.

And while the Ball-on-Ball rematch was expected to be the headliner on the night, leave it to the Bulls to finally showcase their own version of a “Big Three.’’

Before Monday, it was Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan playing the role of two alphas waiting for their plus-one to accept the invite.

Nikola Vucevic finally did.

The three combined for 83 points, led by Vucevic’s season-high 30 points. That included Vucevic finally getting hot from three-point range, going 6-for-6.

Considering the big man had just seven points against the Heat on Saturday, it was a welcome sight.

“I’m just happy for him personally,’’ Donovan said of Vucevic’s performance. “He puts a lot of work in. It’s been a tough go. He’s really sacrificed a lot to make the group better.’’

Against the Hornets, his teammates did everything they could to make him better, not only getting the ball to Vucevic all over the floor, but moving the ball the entire game, evidenced by the 35 assists.

Even more impressive was LaVine was a question mark to play, dealing with flu-like symptoms all day, as well as missing the morning shootaround. He still scored 25 and handed out five assists.

Vucevic appreciated all of it.

“It helps when the coach is confident [in you] and your teammates,’’ Vucevic said. “I just had to find my rhythm. You always need [a game like this]. I knew it was going to come, but when you feel like you’re not helping like you should, it bothers you.’’