Bulls defense roughs up Hornets

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets pushed the Chicago Bulls around in beating them in Chicago at the start of the season.

On Tuesday at New Orleans Arena, the Bulls pushed back, and the Hornets succumbed to the tough, physical play in a 96-87 loss.

The loss was the second in six games for the Hornets (19-35), who play at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Cleveland. Chicago (31-22) ended a two-game slide and had lost five its past seven games.

The Hornets were held to 41.7 percent shooting and committed 15 turnovers, but had the nine in the fourth quarter, dooming it against a team it had beaten at Chicago in November.

Small forward Luol Deng led the Bulls with 20 points; power forward Carlos Boozer had 17 points, 10 rebounds and four steals; and center Joakim Noah had 15 points and 17 rebounds, a season high for a Hornets opponent.

“I think we played with the right edge from the beginning to the end,” said Noah, who helped the Bulls outrebound the Hornets 47-39. “Even when things didn’t go our way, I think we brushed it off right away and got back focused. It was always about the next play. We definitely remembered they had played harder than us in Chicago.”

Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich had five points, 10 assists and three steals, but teammates said his impact, in his return after missing two weeks with an elbow injury, was far greater than that. The Bulls had 30 assists on 39 baskets.

“Kirk brings a whole different dimension with his defensive intensity, his feel for the game, the way he calls plays, his ball movement,” Noah said.

Guard Eric Gordon scored 20 points to lead the Hornets, and Anthony Davis, playing against his hometown team for the first time, had 15 points and 10 rebounds. Point guard Greivis Vasquez had 11 points and 10 assists.

But for the Hornets, starting late in the first quarter, it was an uphill battle. The Bulls stayed in control, gaining double-digit leads. The Hornets would reel them in, only to see the Bulls push back out.

Coach Monty Williams said the Hornets played out of character, which was a big reason for the turnovers.

“There were stretches where we tried to go for home-run plays, and against a team like that, you have to be as solid as possible,” he said. “If you remember the first game back in Chicago, we weren’t throwing lobs every other play.”

Still, the Hornets had their chances.

Trailing all game, they fought back to 78-77 three minutes into the fourth quarter, but Chicago turned them away with defense. After Bulls backup point guard Nate Robinson made a scoop shot in the lane, the Hornets turned the ball over three consecutive times, and Chicago pushed back out to 84-77.

The turnovers didn’t stop there, and sensing the win, the Bulls kept up the pressure. A 6-2 spurt from 4:35 to 2:53 upped the lead to 92-82. The Bulls continued to crowd the lane and force turnovers and guard Ryan Anderson on the 3-point line.

The Hornets ended the third quarter trailing 74-68, but it could have been worse. For the second consecutive quarter, New Orleans fought back late to stay in the game.

The Bulls came out of halftime with intensity and built a 10-point lead, 62-52, by the halfway point. The score was 71-61 with 1:27 left.

However, after Jason Smith made a shot hook off an inbounds play, Austin Rivers came back with a three-point play.

Deng was left all alone and sank a 3-pointer with 40.5 seconds left for a 74-66 lead. However, Anderson was fouled by Taj Gibson with 3.1 seconds left while attempting a 3-pointer and made two free throws.

Late exploits also helped the Hornets stay close at halftime.

Having taken over late in the first quarter, the Bulls built a 35-28 lead on a 3-pointer by Jimmy Butler midway of the second quarter.

New Orleans fought back, with Davis getting a ridiculous left-handed slam of a high lob and Gordon sinking a 3-pointer and going coast to coast for a score after a rebound. That brought the Hornets to 37-35.

Still, the Bulls led 45-37 with 1:28 left. But Vasquez drove for a three-point play with 24.5 seconds left. Then, after Hinrich hit a jumper with six seconds remaining, Vasquez took the inbounds pass, pushed up court and threw a long lob to Davis, who scored, was fouled and made the free throw, cutting it to 47-43.

With the Hornets trailing 10-4 at 8:03 of the first quarter, Williams called timeout after consecutive unsuccessful lobs by Vasquez to Davis, then Al-Farouq Aminu. That seemed to light a fire under the Hornets, who then went on an 11-0 run to take 15-10 lead with 4:55 showing.

But Chicago then had a 10-2 burst, outscored the Hornets 16-6 the rest of the way, and led 26-21 at the end of the quarter.