CHARLOTTE – There were a few promises the Bulls made before the start of their third rebuilding season. They promised to share the ball more, play better defense, and generally be more entertaining as they attempt to move up in the Eastern Conference.
At least one of those things came true in their season opener Wednesday night in Charlotte. Forty-eight minutes of basketball had all the highs and lows, ups and downs you might expect to see over the course of a few weeks.
Jim Boylen’s team was down by double digits to the Hornets in the first half, then stormed back thanks to a big effort from one of the Bulls’ young stars. Yet a ten-point lead in the fourth quarter wasn’t enough, as Charlotte made the last big run of the game to pull out a 126-125 victory to start the season.
Lauri Markannen shined above the rest as he led all scorers with 35 points along with 17 rebounds, providing hope that he might be ready for a big season in his third year with the franchise. It’s only his second opening night in a Bulls uniform since he missed the first 23 games of the season with an elbow injury. Luckily he was there on Wednesday night after his team fell behind by 16 points late in the first half.
Markkanen’s jumper with 6:41 left in the third helped the Bulls work all the way back from the early struggles to take the lead. They’d build that lead all the way to ten points with 7:06 to go in the game after a dunk by Zach LaVine (16 points) made it 115-105.
After that, the momentum swung to Charlotte and never came back as they outscored the Bulls 21-10 to finish off the game. Cody Zeller gave the Hornets the lead for good with 1:40 to go with a slam and the Bulls couldn’t only get within one after that.
In the end, the team’s continued struggles in converting on three-point attempts ended up hurting them down the stretch. Like in the preseason, they weren’t afraid to put up attempts, but they finished 9-of-30 on the evening, with only new acquisition Thaddeus Young having the best luck behind the arc by hitting 3-of-5 attempts.
For opening night, there was plenty of action and things to think about with this current group of Bulls. In the end, however, it ended just as most games with the team had the past two years.