CHICAGO — The Chicago Bulls' closer is almost back at full speed.
Derrick Rose had 17 points in almost 28 minutes and saw his first action in the fourth quarter as he comes back from a right knee injury 10 games into last season.
Rose checked in with 7:22 remaining in the game and helped the Bulls hold off Charlotte 101-96 on Sunday night for their fourth consecutive preseason victory. He was 2 of 4 from the floor in the fourth and scored nine points, making five of his six free throws.
"With Derrick the only way he's going to shake the rust off is to play," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "So we've got to get him out there. The players have to get used to playing with him and he has to get used to playing with them and that's how you build chemistry with the team."
Kirk Hinrich scored 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting and Pau Gasol added 15 points and 10 rebounds to boost the Bulls (4-2).
The Bulls led by 18 during the first half and entered the fourth up 83-70, but Charlotte rallied to cut it to one with 1:30 left on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's three-point play. Rose answered with a jumper and, after the teams traded misses, Charlotte's Gary Neal missed a potential tying 3-pointer with 13 seconds left.
"We made a lot less mistakes in the second half," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said.
Because of that, Chicago needed Rose and Joakim Noah to finish the game. The fact both played in the fourth quarter was a milestone for Chicago.
"It felt good being on the court, feeling more and more comfortable," said Noah, who had four points and seven rebounds in slightly more than 24 minutes.
Lance Stephenson and Kidd-Gilchrist led the Hornets (3-3) with 14 points. Stephenson returned to the Charlotte lineup after missing a game because of a strained right groin.
"I felt good out there," Stephenson said. "I did not feel any ill-effects."
That was good news for the Hornets, who have had an injury-riddled preseason. Knowing that the season is less than two weeks away, Clifford said he'd up his starters' playing time.
He did that, and liked what he saw.
"I think they responded good," Clifford said. "They want to play."
The Bulls played most of the night without guard Jimmy Butler after he sprained his left thumb midway through the first quarter. Thibodeau said Butler is day-to-day.
Hornets: Clifford said rookie forward Noah Vonleh (sports hernia surgery) has been cleared to return to five-on-five but hasn't practiced. ... Clifford said Charlotte is hoping guard/forward Gerald Henderson (right hamstring strain) could return by Thursday night's preseason finale against Indiana.
Bulls: Sunday was the Bulls' final preseason game at the United Center. Their next game in Chicago is their Oct. 31 home opener against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. ... Guard/forward Mike Dunleavy (left knee) returned to the lineup after sitting out Thursday night against Atlanta. He had seven points in 30 minutes.
Clifford and Thibodeau worked together on staffs with the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks. Clifford praised the Bulls coach and said Thibodeau is one of his closest friends, but jokingly declined to share his favorite stories about his former colleague.
DEALING WITH IT
Charlotte has been without Henderson and Vonleh for the entire preseason, something that's impacted the Hornets' preparations for the season. "That's just part of this league," Clifford said.
Noah feels he's making progress as he gets further away from the arthroscopic surgery he underwent on his left knee during the offseason. "Yeah, I feel a lot better than I did two weeks ago," Noah told reporters at Sunday's shootaround.
Charlotte will play Monday night at Atlanta.
Chicago will face Cleveland on Monday night in Columbus, Ohio.
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