Hornets-Bulls Preview

The Chicago Bulls suffered an embarrassing collapse over the weekend, one that likely brought back memories of the last time they faced the Charlotte Hornets just a week and a half ago.

With help possibly on the way in All-Star Jimmy Butler, the banged-up Bulls hope to avoid their seventh loss in 10 games Monday night against a visiting Charlotte team looking to solidify its playoff position.

Chicago (42-29) has dropped one-half game behind Toronto in the race for the Eastern Conference’s third seed after getting outscored 54-19 over the final 19 minutes of Saturday’s 107-91 loss at Detroit.

Pau Gasol scored 17 of his game-high 27 in the second half, but his teammates had only 18 while going 7 for 30 over the final 24 minutes. Aaron Brooks had four points in last two quarters after scoring 15 in the first half.

Nikola Mirotic finished with eight points on 1-of-8 shooting after he had averaged 21.5 over his previous 11 games.

”We were 19 (points up) with about six minutes left in the third,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. ”The game isn’t over if you start giving them easy scores and don’t get back on defense.”

Thibodeau’s club has certainly struggled at times defensively during a 3-6 stretch, allowing an average of 106.8 points over its last five losses after letting the Pistons shoot 48.9 percent and 11 for 26 from 3-point range.

Charlotte (30-38), just 2-5 in its last seven games, similarly rolled past Chicago in a 101-91 home win March 13. The Hornets overcame a 19-point deficit and outscored the Bulls 82-56 over the final three quarters.

They also held a 55-36 rebounding edge – including 17-4 on the offensive glass – without top big man Al Jefferson.

Chicago will have third-leading rebounder Taj Gibson available in the final meeting of this four-game season series. Gibson has totaled 19 points while playing limited minutes in two games since missing 10 with a sprained left ankle.

The Bulls now hope Butler can return after sitting out the past 11 contests due to an elbow injury. The guard is averaging a career-high 20.2 points, though he’s scored just 11.3 per game in his last four versus Charlotte.

Gasol has averaged 20.7 points and 12.0 rebounds in the season series, finishing with 19 and 15 in a 102-95 road win Dec. 3. The Hornets, however, have taken the past two matchups – including a 98-86 victory at the United Center on Feb. 25.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had 18 points and 12 rebounds to help Charlotte overcome Kemba Walker’s absence. Walker is still trying to find his stroke, averaging 11.7 points on 30.9 percent shooting in six games since missing 18 with a knee injury.

He was one of five players to score in double figures with 16 in Sunday’s 109-98 win at Minnesota that snapped a three-game slide and put the Hornets into sole possession of eighth place in the East.

Mo Willliams led the way with 24 points, while Jefferson had 18 to go with 11 boards and Kidd-Gilchrist added 18 and nine.

"We’re going to have to do it for more than 24 minutes to win (at Chicago),” said coach Steve Clifford, whose team trailed by as many as 13 in the first half. "We needed to win a game, especially on the road, and hopefully we can build on it.”

Charlotte hasn’t won this series since taking two of three in the 2008-09 season.