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Hornets' playoff pursuit continues against Bulls
The Charlotte Hornets will continue their playoff push Tuesday night when they host the Chicago Bulls, a team that has given them fits this season, in Charlotte, N.C.
The Hornets (27-33) have won four in a row to gain ground in their three-way duel with the Miami Heat and the Detroit Pistons for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Among those wins was a 114-98 victory in a head-to-head with the Pistons on Sunday behind the strong play of the Charlotte bench.
Four reserves scored in double figures, including Frank Kaminsky, who contributed 13 points two days after helping take down Washington with 23.
"This is our season. This is our playoff push," Kaminsky said after Sunday's win. "Everybody has to be at their best."
Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard have been at their best against the Bulls this season, but it hasn't mattered.
Walker exploded for 47 points when the clubs met in November in Chicago, but the Hornets nonetheless came up short 123-120.
The game was even closer in the rematch in Charlotte in December, when Howard's 25-point, 20-rebound night wasn't enough to prevent a 119-111 overtime defeat.
Chicago has beaten Charlotte four straight times.
The Bulls haven't had similar success against the rest of the league, especially of late. They've lost four in a row overall and seven in succession on the road during a stretch in which they have just two wins in 14 games.
Chicago might have hit a new low Monday night in Brooklyn, getting blown out 104-87 by a team that had lost eight straight.
If there was a positive, it was that the game was so one-sided in the second half the Bulls only extended one player (Justin Holiday) more than 31 minutes on the front half of a back-to-back. Holiday went 35.
Rookie Lauri Markkanen had a nice bounce-back game for the Bulls, scoring 19 points in 30 minutes.
The 20-year-old scorched the Hornets for 16 and 24 points in the first two meetings. But those types of games have been few and far between in the past month, when he has scored more than 14 points just three times.
He hit rock bottom with consecutive 1-of-8 3-point efforts in losses to Philadelphia and Minnesota last week.
Afterward, the 20-year-old admitted to being tired nearly 60 games into his first NBA campaign.
"It's been a long season, I'm not denying that," he said. "But I'm trying to work through it."
The Hornets blasted the Nets 111-96 as part of their current four-game winning streak. That game, plus Tuesday's visit by the Bulls, are two of the few soft spots in a rugged part of the schedule.
After hosting the Bulls, the Hornets embark on a tough three-game trip to Boston, Philadelphia and Toronto before facing the 76ers again at home.
The Hornets also have a five-game trip staring them in the face in mid-March.
Charlotte is attempting to make the playoffs for the third time in the last five seasons. The Hornets missed out last season when they finished 36-46.
Updated February 26, 2018