Observations: Bulls thump Hornets in Zach LaVine's return

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Observations: Bulls thump Hornets in Zach LaVine's return originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

With Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević back in the lineup, the Bulls took it to the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets for a resounding 120-99 win.

That snaps a four-game losing streak, and in rather encouraging fashion.

Here are 14 observations:

1. Slow starts had been a trend of late, but, after two off-days and with Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević back in the lineup, the Bulls came out of the gates hot in this one. Seven minutes, 21 seconds into the game, they surpassed the 20-point mark, a feat they'd only accomplished twice in their last eight first quarters entering play. After 12 minutes, they led 34-24, their first 30-point first quarter since... They last played the Hornets, April 22 at the United Center.

2. Patrick Williams led the charge early, scoring seven first-quarter points on 3-for-4 shooting. Strong cuts produced two of those baskets, both on feeds from Vučević -- a recipe for success. Williams also converted a twisting and-one layup in transition to open scoring and, in a rare move, gave a celebratory hop afterwards.

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Williams only registered one field-goal attempt between quarters two and four, but finished with 11 points, nine rebounds and a block.

3. Recovered and cleared to play following a bout with COVID-19, Zach LaVine made his first appearance since April 14, and his return coincided with the Bulls' offense catching a spark after ranking 26th in the NBA in offensive rating during his absence. Individually, it was a feel-it-out type of performance, scoring 13 points in 27 minutes, shooting 5-for-8 from the field (3-for-8 from distance) with four turnovers. At least the blowout allowed his minutes to stay reasonable in advance of Friday's bout with the Boston Celtics -- and eight of his points came in the fourth.

4. Nikola Vučević also returned after a two-game absence due to hip soreness, and posted a dominant line of 29 points, 14 rebounds, three assists and two steals in 31 minutes -- his 13th double-double in 21 games as a Bull. Shooting 12-for-24 overall and 5-for-7 from deep was particularly notable given the 7-for-27 line he posted in his last game before being held out. He's been extremely accurate from distance -- 52-for-118, 44.1 percent -- since the trade deadline.

5. Coby White -- who averaged 18.4 points, 6.1 assists and shot 38.8 percent from 3 in his last 11 -- stuck in the starting lineup, where he was moved during LaVine's absence. He fit in nicely, tallying 14 points, six assists (with four turnovers, multiple of which came late) and three 3-pointers.

Not only all of that, it was a solid night with his college coach Roy Williams in the house:

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6. Including Daniel Theis' 12 points, the Bulls' starting five combined for 79 points, with all five breaking into double-figures. The combination of White, LaVine, Vučević, Theis and Williams represented the team's 14th different starting lineup of the season, and the first one featuring the former three. Underperformance by the Bulls' front five has been a through-line this season. Could this one be a keeper?

7. The offense hummed from start to finish. With seven players in double-figures, and 50 points in the paint, the scoring attack was balanced; with 50.5 percent shooting from the field and 48.6 percent from 3, the shooting was efficient; and with 33 assists on 46 made field goals (the Bulls' 18th 30-assist night of the season), the ball movement was mostly crisp. It's also their first time hitting triple-figures in four games, and the firs time they've reached 120 points since April 8.

The only blemishes: 18 turnovers and 10-for-17 shooting from the free-throw line -- both forgivable in a convincing win.

8. Thad Young slung eight of those assists, sparking reserve units with expert, faciliatory play from the pocket and post. He also turned back the clock with this capital "p" poster on Jalen McDaniels:

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9. Something had to give behind the arc. The Bulls entered play allowing opponents the fourth-fewest 3-point attempts per game (32.1) and fifth-fewest percentage on those looks (35.5) in the NBA, while the Hornets average the ninth-most 3-point attempts per game (36.8) and shoot the ninth-best percentage in the league on them (37.6). 

As it turned out, 3-point shooting would be what kept the Hornets in the game. After the Bulls built a 48-33 lead midway through the second, a long-range barrage helped the hosts pull within 59-53 at the break. Malik Monk (14 points, 4-for-6 from deep) was downright unconscious, as the Hornets shot 12-for-22 from behind the arc in the first two quarters.

10. But the Bulls' defense was solid on the whole. They held the shorthanded Hornets -- who played without Devonte' Graham, Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward and Cody Martin -- to 7-for-21 shooting inside the arc in the first half, and 42.2 shooting on the night overall (22-for-55 from 2-point range, 26 points in the paint).

11. The Bulls won the third quarter 37-21 -- and closed on a 17-5 run over the final four minutes -- to pull away and lead 96-74 entering the fourth. The Hornets shot 1-for-7 from 3-point range in the third, a death knell.

12. Rather bizarrely, the Hornets started the night 4-for-14 from the free-throw line and finished 7-for-18. That percentage (38.9) was worse than their 45.7 percent mark from deep.

13. Javonte Green's energetic contributions in Monday's near-comeback against the Philadelphia 76ers didn't go unnoticed. He got first-quarter run for the first time in his Bulls tenure, and got a key spell at the end of the third too, finishing with a steal and two assists in seven minutes. His rotational turn replaced Denzel Valentine's, who logged only mop-up minutes. Ryan Arcidiacono and Al-Farouq Aminu also fell out of the regular rotation.

14. Monk's second-quarter shooting tear aside, PJ Washington was about the only bright spot for Charlotte. The second-year forward shot 6-for-8 from 3 en route to 24 points. In his fourth game back from missing 21 with a right wrist fracture, LaMelo Ball scored just four points on 1-for-10 shooting, though he did dish nine assists.

Standings update: The Wizards held on to best the Raptors in overtime, keeping them 3.5 games ahead of the Bulls for the 10th seed in the East with six to play. The Pacers also won, meaning they remain four games ahead for ninth. The Bulls' "magic" number to be mathematically eliminated from contention is three.

The Raptors also jumped the Bulls in the lottery standings with their result, shifting the Bulls' odds of jumping into the top four and retaining their first-round pick from 31.9 percent to 26.3 percent.

Next up: Home for the Boston Celtics Friday to close the back-to-back.

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