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Coach Jim Boylen finally is letting the offense run free, but Bulls still lose

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Not only are the training wheels off the Bulls’ offense, but they have been put away — at least for now.

That doesn’t mean the Bulls still aren’t capable of driving into a wall, though.

Despite another night in which coach Jim Boylen put the pace back into the offense, it was a sleepy third quarter that doomed the Bulls in a 125-118 loss Saturday to the Hornets.

‘‘Offensively, we’re starting to play the way I hoped we can play,’’ Boylen said. ‘‘I backed us down, slowed us down. We kind of crawled for a couple of weeks, then we started walking. Now we’re starting to run with the [multiple] ballhandlers we have.’’

The loss dropped the Bulls to 12-41, but the game also showed what Boylen has been building on offensively, specifically Bobby Portis finding his rhythm and Lauri Markkanen handling the ball.

Portis had his second consecutive impressive game off the bench, following up his 26-point effort Wednesday against the Heat with 33-point performance against the Hornets.

‘‘Just finding my legs,’’ Portis said.

Then there was Markkanen, who is playing more point forward and making things happen. Three minutes into the game, the second-year 7-footer grabbed a rebound and went coast-to-coast for an easy layup. A minute later, he did it again.

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Such a style of play isn’t new to Markkanen, either. Growing up in Finland and playing for the national team, Markkanen often pushed the action after grabbing rebounds. That stopped when he arrived in the United States to play college ball at Arizona, but former coach Fred Hoiberg worked with Markkanen on being more of a ballhandler, and Boylen has been pushing him to do the same thing.

‘‘Yeah, I’m comfortable doing it,’’ Markkanen said. ‘‘I’ve been kind of looking for chances to do that. I think you can get out quicker with the offense instead of just, like, grab the rebound and find the guard every time. So I think me doing that more will be good for us.

‘‘They wanted me to be a complete player [at Arizona], but they also wanted me to look for the guard to bring the ball up to set up the offense, so I kind of got away from it. I was really comfortable bringing the ball up myself. I think that was the best part of my game, so now I’m slowly trying to get back to it.’’

Not a bad idea. Despite dealing with foul trouble, Markkanen finished with 30 points and nine rebounds.

Portis helped stake the Bulls to a nine-point halftime lead with 28 points in the first two quarters. He cooled off in the second half, thanks to the Hornets sending double-teams at him.

The Hornets’ offense, meanwhile, was just getting started. After the Bulls held All-Star guard Kemba Walker to 2-for-11 shooting in the first half, he went off in the second. He finished 10-for-23 from the field and 13-for-14 from the line for 37 points and handed out 10 assists.

‘‘Obviously, Kemba is an All-Star, and he got it rolling,’’ Portis said. ‘‘It’s kind of hard to stop them when Kemba is rolling. They got the crowd involved, started feeling good about themselves, and it’s hard to stop any team when everyone starts feeling good. Everybody was making everything.

‘‘We’ve got to do a better job playing with the lead. There’s been at least 10 games this year where we’ve been up and everything dismantled.’’