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Bulls, Hornets look to strengthen postseason positioning

Mar 31, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) drives to the basket against the LA Clippers during the second half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Bulls are in better postseason position than the Charlotte Hornets, with a playoff berth clinched while the Hornets will be in the play-in tournament.

But a three-game slide has the Bulls in a rather tough spot, and sorting out some of those issues is important during the last weekend of the regular season.

Charlotte will visit the Bulls for Friday night’s game.

“You have to go through significant adversity, challenges — whatever you want to call it — because you have to be able to dig down deeper,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “You have to be battle-tested. You have to be a little bit hardened.”

The Bulls (45-35), who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference — two games behind the Toronto Raptors — have hit a series of snags in recent weeks, so there’s a quest to gain momentum before the postseason.

“We’ve got to get back on track,” Bulls standout Zach LaVine said. “We’re not looking like that same team we were earlier, and that’s upsetting. … We’ve got a certain amount of time before it gets real.”

The Hornets (41-39), in 10th place in the East — one game behind the Atlanta Hawks — are aiming to improve their situation regarding the play-in tournament.

They helped their cause with a 128-101 home victory against the Orlando Magic on Thursday night. The team mindset is in a good place, coach James Borrego said.

“You want your players to play as free as possible. Just keep it as simple as possible,” Borrego said. “More than anything, what brings us home is our fire and force.”

Chicago is coming off Wednesday night’s 117-94 defeat to the Boston Celtics for its third consecutive loss.

“We tried to get it going early and it didn’t happen,” LaVine said. “It’s hard to play when you’re disconnected like this, and the result shows. We have to find our rhythm these next two games.”

Friday marks the Bulls’ home finale, closing a five-game homestand in which the team’s three defeats have come by at least 18-point margins.

“We’ve got to figure it out — some way, somehow,” LaVine said.

Charlotte seems to be in a better spot entering the last weekend of the regular season even though they were in the play-in group last season also.

“I’d say that’s growth, that’s urgency,” Borrego said. “Have we had some moments where we have not been at our best? Yes. … Look at where we were a year ago today. We’ve shown a lot of growth.”

The Hornets were without forward Gordon Hayward on Thursday night because of ankle soreness.

Charlotte might have to wait on the status of forward Montrezl Harrell, who was ejected in the fourth quarter against Orlando, in case the NBA hands out more punishment for his involvement in that fracas.

Even with games on back-to-back nights, the Hornets can embrace this part of the schedule. This is the only road game among the final three dates on their regular-season schedule.

Chicago has won both meetings with the Hornets this season, with a game in November and most recently Feb. 9 in Charlotte.

Guard Lonzo Ball of the Bulls won’t be back this season, as his recovery from surgery for a torn meniscus hit a glitch. He’s the brother of Hornets second-year star guard LaMelo Ball.

–Field Level Media