NBA Picks for Hornets vs. Bulls Influenced by Butler's Status

Matthew Jordan

Monday, March 23, 2015 12:40 PM GMT

The Chicago Bulls have not played very well without All-Star guard Jimmy Butler, but there's a decent chance that he returns from injury on Monday vs. Charlotte. The Bulls are 6.5-point favorites on 5Dimes NBA odds with a total of 191.

Will the Butler Do It?
Chicago (42-29) is trying to stay in the Top 4 of the East and perhaps still catch Cleveland for the Central Division lead and the No. 2 overall seed in the conference. The Cavaliers have a 3.5-game lead entering this week. It certainly would help the Bulls' cause to get starting guards Derrick Rose and Butler back. Rose won't return this week but might finally get back to full-contact practices. Butler has been in full-contact practices and could return Monday. The likely Most Improved Player Award winner in the NBA has missed the past 11 games with an elbow injury. The Bulls have gone 5-6 without Butler, who averages 20.2 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists and is a terrific defensive player. The one bright spot since Butler went out has been the emergence of Nikola Mirotic. He's averaging 20.4 points and 8.2 rebounds in March and surely will win the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month Award for this month (Mirotic did struggle against Detroit, going just 1-for-8 from the field).

The Bulls had a two-game  winning streak snapped Saturday in a 107-91 defeat at Detroit. Chicago had a 19-point lead in the third quarter but was outscored 54-19  in the final 19 minutes. The Pistons did that playing the game without their second-best player Greg Monroe. Bulls power forward Taj Gibson was a game-time call as he comes back from an ankle injury but did play and had 13 points and three rebounds.

For the season, the Bulls are 32-39 against the NBA betting spread and 36-34-1 'over/under.'

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Hornets Conclude Trip
Charlotte (30-38) currently holds down the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, leading the Celtics and Pacers by a half game and Nets by one. The Hornets are 1.5 games behind No. 7 Miami. Frankly, the Hornets probably would rather finish eighth and play Atlanta in Round 1 instead of climbing to seventh and likely facing LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

The Hornets ended a three-game losing streak with Sunday's 109-98 victory at Minnesota, the type of game you have to have if fighting for a playoff spot. Former Timberwolves player Mo Williams led the team with 24 points. He shot 10-for-16 from the floor in his first game at Target Center since the Wolves traded him to Charlotte on Feb. 10. Interestingly, Minnesota lost despite shooting 55.4 percent from the floor, only the third time since 1996-97 the franchise lost a game when hitting at least 55 percent. This game ends Charlotte's five-game road trip. It is 14-20 away from home.

For the season, the Hornets are 33-33-2 against the spread and 34-34 'over/under' on NBA odds.

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Season Series
This is the last meeting, with Charlotte  up 2-1. Chicago was a 3.5-point road favorite at sportsbooks in the first meeting on Dec. 3 and won 102-95. Three Bulls had double-doubles in that game: Pau Gasol (19 points, 15 rebounds), Joakim Noah (14 points, 10 rebounds) and Mirotic (11 points, 12 rebounds). Butler and Rose both played in that one. On Feb. 25 in the Windy City, the Bulls were 7-point favorites on NBA odds and lost 98-86. That was Chicago's first game after learning that Rose had to undergo knee surgery again so the team was totally flat. The Bulls were just 3-for-17 from 3-point range. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Hornets.  On March 13 in Charlotte, the Hornets were 1-point underdogs but on 101-91, rallying from a 19-point first-half deficit. The Hornets held the Bulls to 10 points in the third quarter and 31 overall in the second half. Charlotte dominated on the boards to the tune of a 55-36 rebounding margin even though starting center Al Jefferson was out. Rose, Butler and Gibson all missed the game. Charlotte hasn't won a season series against the Bulls in six years.

NBA Free Picks: Take Chicago if Butler plays but grab the points if not with your NBA picks. Go 'under' the total regardless. The 'under' has hit in nine of the past 13 meetings.