Bulls beat Hornets to end 5-game skid
CHICAGO — When Lauri Markkanen saw Kemba Walker split a pair of defenders en route to the basket late in the fourth quarter Friday night, the Chicago Bulls rookie realized he had to make a play.
With nothing standing between Walker and a potential game-winning layup, Markkanen rotated and made his move. And after making a defensive stand that led to a Walker miss on one end of the floor, Markkanen hit a pair of free throws on the other that capped the Bulls’ 123-120 victory over the Charlotte Hornets.
The victory — sparked by 27 points from Justin Holiday and 22 from Kris Dunn — snapped Chicago’s five-game losing streak.
“We needed this one in a bad way to generate some confidence for our players,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said.
Markkanen closed out the win for the Bulls (3-10) with the two free throws after he was fouled after stopping Walker.
Walker, who scored 47 points to lead Charlotte (5-9), darted toward the basket with 3.2 seconds remaining and the Hornets trailing by a point.
But after he couldn’t finish, neither could the Hornets, who lost their sixth straight.
“I had a good look — I kind of lost the ball a little bit, but I got what I wanted,” said Walker, who finished 17 of 27 from the field and finished five points shy of his career-high. “I just came up short.”
Said Markkanen: “I saw him with a wide-open lay-up so I needed to make a play — either block that shot or make it as hard as I can for him (to finish).”
Denzel Valentine scored 18 points to go along with 16 from Markkanen for Chicago, which also got 10 points from Jerian Grant and Bobby Portis.
Holiday scored five straight points to give the Bulls a 117-111 lead with 1:51 remaining. But a Walker 3-point field goal and layup got the Hornets to within 121-120 with 32 seconds remaining.
Robin Lopez had a chance to extend Chicago’s lead, but missed a jumper with 10.5 seconds remaining. Charlotte coach Steve Clifford called time out, which set up Walker.
“He kept us in the game and made big play after big play,” Clifford said of Walker.
The Bulls, who trailed by as many as 11, rallied in the fourth quarter behind Holiday and Dunn, who rebounded from a 1-for-11 shooting performance Wednesday against Oklahoma City. Dunn also sparked Chicago defensively as the Bulls closed out the victory by outscoring Charlotte 40-28 in the fourth quarter.
But if the victory is to mean anything in the big picture, Hoiberg said his team must learn from the positives collected during Friday night’s victory.
“This is huge for us before heading on the road trip and to (end) that losing streak,” Markkanen said. “It’s big-time for us, but we have to get back to work tomorrow and get the next one on Sunday.”
Marvin Williams scored 13 points for Charlotte (5-9), which also got 11 points from Dwight Howard and Frank Kaminsky. Jeremy Lamb finished with 10 points.
Walker gave the Hornets a 92-83 lead with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 40 seconds of the third quarter. The Bulls got to within three points on a Holiday jumper only to see Walker respond and give Charlotte some breathing room before Chicago rallied in the fourth quarter.
“We just don’t have an identity,” Clifford said. “We have — right now — no defensive identity. That’s the coach’s responsibility. I just told them that for four years, we’ve played with a lot of discipline, a lot of intelligence and right now, we don’t.”
With the Hornets having a quick turnaround and facing the Los Angeles Clippers in Charlotte on Saturday, Walker said something needs to change in a hurry.
“We’ve got to look in the mirror and just be better,” Walker said. “...We’re just messing everything up. It’s bad.”
NOTES: Hornets G/F Nic Batum was limited to 27 minutes in his second game back from a torn ligament in his elbow. Coach Steve Clifford wants to keep Batum and F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist fresh as the Hornets will play six games over nine days. ... Bulls F Nikola Mirotic will not travel with the Bulls, who begin a four-game road trip starting Sunday in Phoenix. Mirotic continues working out in Chicago as he recovers from facial fractures sustained from a punch by teammate Bobby Portis. ... G Zach LaVine (knee) hopes to begin practicing Tuesday in Los Angeles with the expectation to play by mid-December. LaVine tore the anterior cruciate ligament Feb. 3. ... F David Nwaba (ankle) participated in shootaround Friday and hopes to practice Saturday. Nwaba hopes to stick to that timetable but said Friday he’s not sure how much he will be able to do due to continued soreness.