CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Nikola Vucevic had 29 points and 14 rebounds, and the Chicago Bulls breezed past the Charlotte Hornets 120-99 on Thursday night with Zach LaVine back on the floor.
LaVine returned from an 11-game absence due to the league’s health and safety protocols and scored 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting for the Bulls, who swept the season series against the Hornets by a combined 52 points.
Chicago entered the night 3 1/2 games behind Washington for the final spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.
P.J. Washington, who missed Charlotte’s last game for the birth of his child, led the Hornets with 24 points on six 3-pointers. Malik Monk added 20 points off the bench for the Hornets, who played without Gordon Hayward, Miles Bridges and Devonte Graham.
Charlotte (32-34) had a chance to clinch a spot in the play-in tournament with a win combined with a loss by the Toronto Raptors.
But Vucevic would have none of it. He returned after missing two games with right abductor tightness and dominated Charlotte. He made 12 of 24 shots from the field and helped spread the floor by shooting 5 of 7 from 3-point range. He also pushed the Bulls to a 56-45 edge on the glass.
The Bulls beat the Hornets by 13 and 18 points earlier this season and jumped out to a 48-33 lead.
It appeared Charlotte might make a game of it after hitting 8 of 13 3-point attempts in the second quarter to cut the lead to five, but the Bulls extended their lead to 22 entering the fourth quarter.
It was a miserable night for Hornets rookie LaMelo Ball, who was 1 of 10 from the field and finished with four points.
LaVine averaged more than 30 points in his five previous games before being sidelined, but mostly deferred to his teammates in the first three quarters, attempting six shots. But he began to show his scoring ability with back-to-back jump shots to start the fourth quarter.
Bulls: Had 19 second chance points. … Never trailed in the game. … Former North Carolina coach Roy Williams was in attendance watching one of his former players, Coby White.
Hornets: Caleb Martin had the play of the night when he drove the baseline and skied over Vucevic for a one-handed dunk. … Shot 38.9% (7 of 18) from the free-throw line.
Bulls: Host Boston on Friday night.
Hornets: Host New Orleans on Friday night.