It's a must-win game for the Chicago Bulls on Thursday in Charlotte as they chase the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament, and to that effect the Bulls are expected to welcome back their two All-Stars, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic, from multiple-game injury absences. Charlotte, meanwhile, will be without Miles Bridges for sure and most likely Devonte' Graham as well. That helps explain why the team with the better record, the Hornets, is a 3.5-point home underdog on the William Hill Sportsbook NBA odds.
It's probably too late for the Bulls to reach the 10th position in the Eastern Conference standings as they sit 12th, 3.5 games behind No. 10 Washington, and have lost four in a row. Chicago also has a very tough schedule remaining. The team gave up its first-round pick (and a future one) in this year's draft to land Vucevic from the Magic at the trade deadline, but it is protected in spots 1-4.
Vucevic hasn't played since April 30 due to a hip injury but practiced in full Wednesday. He's averaging 22.3 points and 10.9 rebounds in 20 games since joining the Bulls, but they are still well under .500 with him. LaVine hasn't played since April 14 as he was in the health and safety protocols. Thus, it's fair to wonder if he can handle heavy minutes Thursday. LaVine ranks seventh in the NBA in scoring at 27.5 ppg.
Charlotte sits eighth in the East and will be in the play-in tournament barring possibly losing every game the rest of the way. It's possible the Hornets could climb as high as sixth and avoid the play-in, but it's not likely. Bridges, who had been playing really well of late, is out 10-14 days in the health and safety protocols. Graham (14.5 ppg, 5.4 apg) is technically listed doubtful with right knee discomfort.
P.J. Washington missed Tuesday's game for personal reasons but will play. Gordon Hayward has been out weeks with a foot injury and likely won't be back until next week at the earliest.
The Bulls are 2-0 vs. the Hornets this season. They played in Charlotte on Jan. 22 and won 123-110 before Chicago had Vucevic. The most recent meeting was on April 22 in Chicago and the Bulls won 108-91 without LaVine. Charlotte is still 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings overall.
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