The Bulls are 3-point favorites against the Hornets, who were supposed to be a playoff team again this season, but instead are one of the worst teams in the NBA, riding a nine-game losing streak.
Hornets Have No Sting Yet
Things really were supposed to be looking up for Michael Jordan's franchise. Last season under first-year coach Steve Clifford, Charlotte jumped from 22 wins the season before to 43 victories and the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the team was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat, but it was a huge step forward. Much more was expected this season, as the franchise reverted to the nickname Hornets, with the offseason additions of free agents Lance Stephenson and Marvin Williams to go with cornerstones like point guard Kemba Walker, forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and center Al Jefferson.
However, at 4-14 there might not be a more disappointing team in the NBA. Injuries have certainly played a role. Kidd-Gilchrist, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012 behind Anthony Davis, is still offensively challenged but a superior defender. He has missed 10 straight games with a stress fracture in his right foot (and won't play here). It's no coincidence that Charlotte has lost the past nine of those. It was one of the NBA's best defensive teams last season but is 22nd in points allowed per game (101.1) in 2014.
In addition, Williams (6.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg) has missed the past two games with a left shoulder strain and is questionable at best for Wednesday. So is guard Gary Neal (12.3 ppg), who has missed the past three with his own shoulder strain. Charlotte is 2-4 with its projected starting five of Walker, Stephenson, Williams, Kidd-Gilchrist and Jefferson but 2-10 overall without MKG in the starting five (he missed two earlier games).
Then there's Stephenson, who has been nothing short of a bust after a career season with the Pacers. Everyone praised the three-year, $27 million deal that the Hornets lured Stephenson away from Indiana with. He is averaging just 9.6 points per game and shooting a ghastly .367 from the floor overall and .184 from long range. Stephenson has been in Clifford's doghouse a few times and there are reports some teammates already tired of him. The Hornets would trade him for wing help, although he can't be dealt until Dec. 15.
Jefferson is having a nice season, averaging 20.0 points and 7.5 rebounds. Walker (14.0 points, 5.7 apg) has been OK and that's about it. Second-year big man Cody Zeller and rookie P.J. Hairston have seen a major uptick in playing time of late. Zeller has started the past two with Williams out.
Charlotte is 6-10-2 against the NBA betting spread this season and 10-8 'over/under.'
Bulls Will Have Heavy Legs
The Bulls don't want to hear about injuries as they have been yo-yoing star point guard Derrick Rose in and out of the lineup, but he appears healthy now and might play in this one even though it's the second of a back-to-back. Chicago lost 132-129 in double overtime against visiting Dallas on Tuesday in one of the games of the year. It was Chicago's first home game off its annual "Circus Trip," which was seven games.
Chicago looked to have the win sewn up in regulation vs. Dallas with a 3-point lead and just a few seconds left. The Bulls wanted to foul Dallas on its in-bounds play to avoid the Mavs getting off a 3-point attempt -- Dallas had no timeouts left -- but Chicago veteran guard Kirk Hinrich made one of the most bone-headed plays of his career as he fouled Monta Ellis as Ellis was throwing up a desperation 28-footer with 1.2 seconds remaining. Ellis made all three free throws to tie it. It should never have gone into double OT, but Rose banked in a miracle 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer to force another extra period.
Rose finished 6-for-20 from the field for 18 points in 37 minutes. Chicago is really going to be gassed here. Pau Gasol played a whopping 50 minutes (only the fifth game of his career of 50 minutes) and finished with 29 points and 14 rebounds. He has been terrific this season. Mike Dunleavy (20 points) played 49 minutes and Jimmy Butler (23 points) 46. Joakim Noah played 36 minutes through an ankle injury. I wouldn't be shocked if he gets Wednesday off. Ditto Rose.
Rose might be the biggest name on the Bulls, but the team's best player thus far has been Butler, who is going to get a huge contract next offseason as a restricted free agent. The Bulls and Butler couldn't agree to terms by the Oct. 31 deadline, and it's going to cost Chicago millions of dollars. Butler is one of the NBA's best perimeter defenders and is leading the team in scoring at 22.0 points per game to go along with 5.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.4 steals. He deserves to be an All-Star.
The Bulls played without excellent sixth man Taj Gibson again Tuesday as he missed his fifth straight game with an ankle injury and is not expected in this one. He averages 12.4 points and 5.8 rebounds and usually is on the court the entire fourth quarter because he is such a good defender. Rookie Nikola Mirotic has been playing more with Gibson out. Also out Tuesday was rookie Doug McDermott with knee swelling. Thus the Chicago bench was rather short and will be again here.
The Bulls are 7-11 against the spread at sportsbooks this season and 9-8-1 'over/under.'
Chicago won three of four meetings, with Rose playing in just one of them. Charlotte's lone win came in overtime on the final day of the regular season. it ended Chicago's five-game winning streak in Charlotte. Noah played in all four and averaged 13.8 points and 11.0 rebounds. Dunleavy averaged 12.3 points and 6.5 rebounds. Jefferson played in three of the four and averaged 20.7 points and 14.0 rebounds. Walker averaged 19.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in three games vs. Chicago.
NBA Free Picks: Hornets +3 and 'over' 193 points at 5Dimes.
If I had picked this game Tuesday night, the Bulls and 'under' would have been the choice. But after that draining loss to Dallas, Chicago will have nothing left in the tank and Charlotte wins outright in a game that shouldn't have much defense. The Bulls have covered only one of their past five in the second of a back-to-back. The 'over' is 4-0 in Charlotte's past four at home.