Maybe someday, the Chicago Bulls’ three main rebuilding blocks will add up to the sum of their parts.
While Zach LaVine (knee) and Kris Dunn (toe) are finished for the season, rookie Lauri Markkanen has come alive as the team’s primary scoring option.
Markkanen scored 24 points in 24 minutes, and even with the Finland native sitting out the fourth quarter, the Bulls won their third in a row by defeating Charlotte 120-114 on Tuesday night at the United Center.
Newcomer Sean Kilpatrick was the key player down the stretch, scoring 19 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter. The Hornets played most of their starters in crunchtime and cut into the Bulls’ lead several times. But Kilpatrick’s 3-pointer with 56.5 seconds left sent the Bulls ahead 118-114 and essentially put the game on ice.
“I’m still trying to figure out plays,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m siting there on the court asking coach, ‘Where do I go?’ The best thing about it is they keep coaching me through it.”
The quest for a higher draft pick won’t be helped by the winning streak. The Bulls (27-51) moved back into a tie with New York for the league’s eighth- and ninth-worst records with four games to play. Ties in draft order are settled by a random drawing.
The good news is the Bulls have no chance of moving ahead of any team currently above the Knicks in the standings.
“I love the way our young guys are competing,” said coach Fred Hoiberg, who was back on the bench after missing Sunday’s game with an illness. “That’s what it’s all about for us right now. We talk about it every day.”
It all started with Markkanen on Tuesday. In the four games he has played since returning from a back injury. Markkanen has posted games of 24, 23 and 22 points. In the past two contests, the 7-foot forward hit 10 of 14 shots from 3-point range and scored 47 points in 49 minutes.
“I’ve got to thank my teammates on that one,” Markkanen said. “I got wide-open looks today and just made them.”
Earlier in the season, there were plenty of times when the postgame questions were about what the Bulls need to do to get Markkanen more shot attempts. Can he continue this type of success when he’s on the court with Dunn and LaVine next season?
“I think we can,” Hoiberg said. “I think our guys are doing a good job finding him. We’re doing a lot of simple things. It’s not going down and running a lot of set plays for him. He’s getting a lot of it just off the movement and guys finding him.”
Before the game, Dunn was asked if he’s worried the Bulls’ main three guys had so little opportunity to play together this season, between LaVine’s return from ACL surgery, Dunn’s midseason concussion and the late-season shut down.
“Not at all. We’re competitors,” Dunn said. “We all are talented in our own way. It just takes time. I think this summer is going to help that. I think the coaching staff is going to do a job making sure we all jell well. We’re excited. Me and Lauri, we already got that chemistry going. It’s going to be easy just to add another one.”
Justin Holiday added 19 points for the Bulls and Bobby Portis scored 16. Power forward Noah Vonleh didn’t play in the second half because of a strained calf. Charlotte rookie Malik Monk scored 16 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter.
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