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Game Day: Rockets vs. Bulls

Analysis and observations from Houston's 109-94 win over the Chicago Bulls

HOUSTON - Analysis and observations from before, during and after Houston’s Wednesday night matchup with the Chicago Bulls:


The Chicago Bulls threatened to turn Wednesday night’s matchup with Houston into a dogfight. The Rockets responded by cranking up the tempo and transforming the tightly contested contest into a rout.


In desperate need of a win in the wake of a rocky road trip – and with another high-degree-of-difficulty excursion lying just ahead on the horizon – Houston leaned on its best players to bring home a victory and their stars did not disappoint. Dwight Howard was dominant, James Harden stuffed the stat sheet, and Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley applied their all-around games to great success as the Rockets rolled to a 109-94 win over the beleaguered Bulls.

The key stretch began midway through the third quarter after a Luol Deng layup had brought the Bulls within 3. The Rockets responded by putting together a 17-1 run filled with stout defense, strong drives and quicksilver counterattacks that left Chicago in the dust.

"We have to make sure we play our style of basketball, especially against teams that want to grind you to a pulp," said Houston Head Coach Kevin McHale after the game."Pace was really important for us tonight. We tried to get the ball up and down and put some pressure on their defense before they get set. If you constantly go against the set defense, it is just too hard."

The Rockets avoided that predicament by testing the Bulls' transition defense early and offense. And when Houston was forced to operate out of its half-court sets, it frequently found joy with its inside-out attack centered upon the two-pronged dominance of Howard and Harden. Howard was especially unstoppable, authoring a rim-busting opus on his way to finishing with 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting - numbers that fall right in line with the rest of his robust December averages of 19.3 points and 15 rebounds per game.

"He's just got a nice rhythm," said McHale of his 7-time All-Star center. "When he goes fast, there is a reason to go fast. When he goes slow, he's setting guys up. Basketball is such a game of rhythm and he's in a nice flow right now.”


- The Rockets’ starting lineup ran the game in the first half, with Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard combining to score 51 of the club’s 57 points through the first two periods of play. Beverley really got going in the second quarter when Marquis Teague was tasked with defending him, an arrangement that obviously agreed with the Chicago-native’s scoring instincts. Beverley ran off eight quick points to begin the period, the vast majority of which were accrued by blowing by Teague on his way to the basket. Beverley finished with 11 points in the quarter, 13 for the half, and Houston strolled to the break with an 11-point lead.

- The Rockets’ reserves only recorded two made field goals in the first half. Aaron Brooks was responsible for the first one, spinning in one of his patented running, right-handed bank shots from the wing. That shot surely draws its fair share of eye rolls from opponents who probably feel it’s a fluke whenever the ball falls through the basket. But here’s the thing: Brooks practices that shot all the time. And with his long fingers and expert bowling skills (seriously), he’s capable of making the outlandish downright ordinary when he pulls that spin shot out of his bag of tricks.

- Tonight represented Greg Smith’s second game back after missing a month due to a knee injury. As was the case Sunday in Sacramento, Smith found himself in foul trouble after his initial stint on the floor (tonight it took fewer than five minutes for him to pick up three fouls). The frequent fouling isn’t too terribly surprising at this point, though, given that the 22-year-old has hardly played this season, meaning these minutes right now essentially amount to a second training camp for the Fresno State product.

- The James Harden-Dwight Howard pick-and-roll is so ridiculously effective it often works even when it doesn’t. For example: During one second quarter possession, Harden drove into the lane off a Howard screen before tossing up a floater that bounced harmlessly off the side of the rim. But because the Bulls’ defense was so scrambled in an attempt to deal with all the pressure that action applies, that the Rockets took advantage of the chaos, grabbed the rebound and Howard converted a layup seconds later. The Harden-Howard pick-and-roll works in the traditional way plenty. But the resulting defensive discombobulation helps Houston score in some unorthodox ways every once in a while as well.  

- It's just not a Rockets home game anymore until Chandler Parsons and Terrence Jones team up for some alley-oop magic – seems like it’s a nightly occurrence at Toyota Center now. This evening’s episode took place late in the second quarter as Parsons eyes a crisscrossing Jones flying toward the hoop. Lob. Dunk. Delirium. The synergy between those two, especially at home, has been something else and it certainly speaks to Parsons’ ability to serve as a conduit capable of getting everyone going and involved in the game. 

"It's crazy because I despise Kentucky and any player that comes out of there," quipped Parsons of his built-in-the-SEC partnership that pairs the Florida product with a Kentucky Wildcat. "We've got a good read and he relocates very well every time I drive. He's obviously super athletic so I'll just drive and try to draw his guy, and his guy will usually commit to me so I just throw it up there and let him go get it." 

- It may have taken them a while to join the party, but Houston’s second unit held up its end of the bargain in the second half. Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia, in particular played key rolls in the Rockets’ game-defining 17-1 run that began during the latter portion of the third quarter before Chandler Parsons’ fast break layup placed an exclamation point upon it in the fourth. That stretch put Houston up 19 points – a deficit that the offense-starved Bulls never really had a chance to overcome.

- The Rockets outscored Chicago 66-40 in paint points – an impressive achievement given the fact the Bulls came into tonight’s contest conceding a league low 34.5 points in the paint per game. Howard more than set the pace in that regard, finishing with 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting, putting on a clinic in finishing at the rim in the process.

- With the win, the Rockets’ record now improves to 17-9 as the team prepares for yet another brutally tough road test that will see them take on the Eastern Conference leading Pacers Friday night before facing the Detroit Pistons and their beef-laden frontcourt on Saturday. 

- Last but certainly not least: After missing his second straight game due a back injury sustained last Friday, Jeremy Lin said he's definitely noticed improvement and that he's hopeful he might be able to return this weekend if the stiffness and soreness continue to dissipate. 



(On team pace) “Pace was really important for us tonight. We wanted to make sure...we tried to get the ball up and down and put some pressure on their defense before they get set. If you constantly go against the set defense, it is just too hard. I thought we did a pretty good job of moving the ball and getting some pace in the game. I thought Dwight (Howard) was really good with the ball down in the post tonight. He's had nice rhythm now for the past two or three weeks. He's really been playing with a lot of patience and some good rhythm. I thought there was some good stuff that we did offensively. Defensive-wise, it was a similar thing; they had nineteen second chance points so that means we just have to keep them (Bulls) off the board.”

(On team's inside play) “We were able to drive, keep them spread out, attacking the floor before they get set. Like I said, if you walk it on them, they really lock in. All defenses make more mistakes when they are scrambling and running back in transition. I thought we were losing a little bit of our pace the last four or five games, in general. I really made an emphasis yesterday talking about it. We tried practicing yesterday with the seven guys we had. We just have to make sure we play our style of basketball, especially against those teams that want to grind us to a pulp.”

(On Patrick Beverley's 2nd quarter performance) “I thought he came out and had great energy. He made that big three going into half time. He just played hard. He was driving the ball, he was attacking, he was doing a good job. I told him that it was really important that he initiate pace for us. Whether he's scoring or not, he's gotta get the ball up and down the floor. He's gotta get guys out ahead of him and throw it ahead and just create pace for us and he did a good job on that.”

(On Dwight Howard's play) “I think he's been like that for the last two or three weeks (on his offensive decisiveness). He's just got a nice rhythm. When he plays he plays with a nice rhythm. When he goes fast there is a reason to go fast. When he goes slow, he's setting guys up. Basketball is such a game of rhythm and he's in a nice flow right now.”


(On his less than normal playing time) “He (Coach McHale) told me that he was going to take me out a little bit early just to keep me in with that second unit and kind of be a facilitator and get us in our offense and I have no problem with that. It allows me to be aggressive and get people shots and make it easier for them. I've just got to take care of the ball and make sure we are running our stuff.”


(On his play) “I was trying to be aggressive tonight. I don't think I played good defense at all today. I don't know what was wrong with me but I tried to be aggressive on offense today, tried to make some plays, especially when James was out and I was able to get some easy buckets.”

(On the Rockets progress) “With this team we just have to find a way to come out and play every game hard and smart and play defense. I think we are getting there. Once we start playing like that on a consistent basis I think we will be a team to be reckoned with.”


(On the Rockets 2nd half run) “With the guys we have on our team any lineup would work. We can go big, we can go small. We can go with the three point shooting lineup. We've got the ability to adapt to any situation and we are getting better as the season goes.”

(On the importance of the Rockets being in attack mode) “It was very important. You have to attack the rim, in spite of having shot blockers. You've got to make those guys try to block shots and also rebound at the same time. It's hard to do both. We just tried to attack the basket and kick it out to our three point shooters.”


(On consistency) “Defensively we know they like to slow the game down and play to their pace. We wanted to push the tempo and play our pace. It was a matter of who could impose their will.”

(On him playing through a little pain) “Sore. Sore. I got stepped on again early in the first quarter I think. I decided to play through it and try to forget about it and ice it after the game. Hopefully it will start feeling better.”

(On playing the half-court offense versus Chicago) “Yeah, definitely we wanted to play fast. That’s how we want to play; we want to play fast no matter who we are playing. Play fast, move the basketball and everybody scores.  We did that tonight.”


(On the game) “The end of the second quarter, we missed two free throws and we were up to three and it should have been six and we worked our way back down three, had another travel and we didn’t play well tonight. So, when we look back, we can see games are winnable and you look at each game and you see what happens. You have to make your corrections and move on and be ready for the next game.”

(On the Rockets scoring in the paint) “We didn’t take anything away, so they hurt us in the paint and they hurt us with the three and they shot 53%. We have to straighten it out.”

(On what improvement he’s looking for) “We have to be disciplined and just do your job. You can live with certain shots. Houston is a great offensive team, so you have to decide what you are willing to live with. If they are taking the shots you want them to take, then you’re okay. But, you have to take something away and that’s what we didn’t do.”

(On the Rockets and Patrick Beverley’s play) “He’s a good player. He’s a hard playing guy, but they keep pressure on you because of what (Chandler) Parsons can do and what (James) Harden can do. You look at (Dwight) Howard and I think he takes a lot of unjust criticism. Howard is a top-ten player in this league. That puts enormous pressure on you at all times.”


(On the teams recent play) “It was a tough night. We felt we got close, but then kept our distance and we just couldn’t get enough stops. Obviously, the teams we are playing right now are high scoring teams that have a lot of options and our defense has to be even better to get these kinds of wins. We didn’t get the stops we needed tonight, but we have to earn from it and move on tomorrow.”

(On their recent team problems) “It could be a combo of different things, but at the end of the day it comes down to the fact we have to get guys healthy. It seems like we are always missing somebody, but we’ll do the best we can and fight through it. This is one of the toughest stretches we’ve had with our group together but we’ll fight through it and keeping hard and hopefully we’ll start getting some wins soon. We need wins bad. We are playing hard and sometimes we are getting bad bounces, but we have to stay positive and try to correct our mistakes and some things aren’t going our way, but as a group of guys we have to fight through it. We are never going to give up because that’s the make up of our team.”


(On where the game turned) “I think it was just throughout the game. Our energy was good in spurts, but you have to give credit where credit is do. They are a good team.”

(On where the Bulls are mentally) “We’re losing, so mentally it’s tough. When you lose, it’s not fun. We have to keep battling. The games keep coming and nobody feels sorry for us and we can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We just have to play harder.”


Houston registered another sold out crowd of 18,242 tonight, giving the Rockets 13 sellouts on the season.

The Rockets closed out the third quarter on a 15-1 run en route to a 109-94 victory over the Bulls tonight.

Houston took the battle of the boards by a 37-33 edge tonight. The Rockets had been outrebounded a season-long three straight games heading into tonight’s contest.

The Rockets went 44-of-82 (.537) from the floor tonight. Houston now stands at 8-2 this season in games when it shoots .500 or better from the field.

Houston matched its season high for points in the paint by outscoring Chicago to the tune of 66-40 down low tonight. Overall this season, the Rockets have recorded five games of 60-plus points in the paint.

Dwight Howard finished with a game-high 23 points (11-14 FG) and nine rebounds tonight. Howard, who came into this game with six consecutive double-doubles (12/4/13-12/15/13), stands along with Yao Ming and Luis Scola as the only two Rockets to record a run of six or more double-doubles since 2003-04.

James Harden recorded 19 points (7-13 FG, 4-4 FT), six assists and three steals tonight. Harden has now scored 122 points (24.4 ppg) with 35 assists (7.0 apg) over the last five games (12/8/13-12/18/13).

Chandler Parsons added 19 points (8-14 FG, 3-4 3FG) and nine boards tonight. Parsons also posted 18 points (7-13 FG) and a career-high 13 rebounds last year vs. Chicago (11/21/12).

Patrick Beverley collected 15 points (5-9 FG, 2-4 3FG) and three assists tonight. Since joining the Rockets last season, Houston now holds a record of 12-4 when Beverley scores in double figures.

Terrence Jones dished out a career-high six assists tonight, topping his previous high of three done twice before (last on 11/23/13 vs. Minnesota).

Jimmy Butler topped four Bulls in double-digit scoring with a season-high-tying 20 points (8-15 FG) tonight, which marked his second 20-point performance of the season. Butler also posted 20 points and a career-high-tying five steals at Miami (10/29/13).

Luol Deng had 18 points (7-15 FG), five rebounds and four assists tonight. In his prior eight games, Deng had averaged 25.0 points (.514, 71-140 FG), 6.3 boards and 5.3 assists.

Carlos Boozer totaled 17 points (7-15 FG) and six boards through three quarters. In 25 prior career games against the Rockets, Boozer averaged of 14.8 points and 9.9 rebounds.

D.J. Augustin made his first start with the Bulls tonight. The former Texas Longhorn had eight points (2-6 FG) and a season-high nine assists.


The Basics:

Chicago Bulls (9-14) at Houston Rockets (16-9)

Point Differential:

Chicago: -1.2 (NBA rank: 18th)

Houston: +4.8 (NBA rank: 7th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Chicago: 95.7 (28th)

Houston: 107.4 (3rd)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Chicago: 97.7 (4th)

Houston: 101.0 (9th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Chicago: 93.21 (28th)

Houston: 99.16 (4th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Chicago: 45.0% (29th)

Houston: 53.4% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Chicago: 16.9 (26th)

Houston: 17.7 (30th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Chicago: 52.0% (5th); offensive rebound rate: 28.9% (4th); defensive rebound rate: 74.4% (17th)

Houston: 52.7% (2nd); offensive rebound rate: 28.1% (7th); defensive rebound rate: 73.5% (22nd)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Chicago: .273 (15th)

Houston: .413 (1st)

Much to the chagrin of hoops fans everywhere, tonight’s matchup may very well end up being just as much about who’s not playing as opposed to focusing on the guys who actually are plying their trade on the court. Few teams can find as much common ground for commiseration as the Rockets and Bulls can these days, with each club having spent significant portions of the 2013-14 campaign to date battling a brutal bout with the injury bug. And though Chicago has obviously been the harder hit of the two by virtue of having lost superstar point guard Derrick Rose for the season due to yet another knee injury, Houston has played host to a near nightly round of game-time decisions all year long – a trend that promises to continue tonight (please see injury update at the end of today’s preview for the latest on that front).

When the preseason ended, the Bulls and Rockets were ranked first and second, respectively, in point differential, confirming each club’s rather realistic championship aspirations heading into the regular season. For Chicago, that dream likely died the day Rose tore the medial meniscus in his right knee. And while Houston’s ultimate goal still remains within reach, there’s little doubt both teams will enter tonight’s contest yearning for those heady, late-October days before injuries began wreaking havoc with their rosters and laying waste to their best laid plans.

Know Thy Enemy

- I don’t wish to belabor the point or kick the Bulls while they’re down, but here’s a brief look at what life has been like for Chicago since Rose suffered his latest injury on November 22: The Bulls are 3-9 without their best player, owning an average point differential of -5. With Rose, Chicago posted an offensive rating of 97.8 and a defensive rating of 94.3 – in the days since his departure from the lineup the Bulls sport an offensive rating of 93.8 and a 100.9 defensive mark, culminating in a net rating of -7.2 – one of the five worst marks in the league during that span of time. Of course, not at all helping matters for Chicago has been the fact that Luol Deng, Jimmy Butler and Kirk Hinrich have all missed time as well. And while Deng and Butler are back, Hinrich (back) is expected to miss his third straight game tonight.

- Given the myriad ailments afflicting the Bulls, it comes as no surprise that the club’s collective 3-point shooting percentage of 32.2 percent stands as the third-worst mark in the league. What is downright shocking, however, is to see that Chicago’s opponents are hitting nearly 39 percent of their shots from downtown – the second highest hit rate in the NBA. Bear in mind, the Bulls have been in the top-5 in that category every year since Tom Thibodeau became the team’s head coach in 2010, so their current statistical standing in that regard represents quite the outlier when compared to their previous body of work. It also bodes well for a Houston team that takes more 3s (27.4 per game) than any other squad and only red-hot Portland (10.1) makes more per game than do the Rockets (9.8). Do note, however, that while Bulls’ opponents have been making their 3s at a high rate, Chicago only allows them to take 18 per game – the fourth-lowest number in the league.

- One thing that hasn’t changed for Chicago this year: the Bulls still defend the most valuable areas of the court as if they are being charged with protecting the contents of Fort Knox. Chicago concedes the third fewest shot attempts in the league from both the restricted area and the forever-coveted corners. The Bulls also rank third in opponent field goal percentage (55.3 percent) from the restricted area.

In related news, Chicago forces its opposition to take more midrange shots per game (29) than does any other team in the NBA, setting up a fascinating ‘game-within-the-game’ showdown with a Houston team that averages just nine midrange attempts per contest – a number that is far and away lower than that of any other club (Philadelphia is the next closest to Houston, and the Sixers average 18.6 midrange shots per game).

In the spotlight

This is simple. The Bulls possess one very clear statistical advantage over the Rockets and that is the one which pits their fourth-ranked offensive rebound rate versus Houston’s season-long struggle to devour defensive boards. In Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Carlos Boozer, Chicago boasts three players who must be accounted for every single time the Bulls launch a shot toward the basket. Snuff out those easy put-back attempts and second-chance opportunity scrambles, and there’s a very good chance the Rockets will also be able to put Chicago’s offense in a suffocating stranglehold. 

From an individual standpoint, keep an eye on Chandler Parsons (assuming he’s able to go). Houston’s third-year forward was a big part of his team’s success against Chicago last year, averaging 20.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the floor and 6-of-8 from beyond the arc in the Rockets’ two victories over the Bulls.

Injury Update

James Harden (ankle) participated in this morning’s shootaround and though he is officially being listed as a game-time decision, he said he believes he’ll be ready to play tonight. Chandler Parsons falls into the same category: He, too, is listed as a game-time decision but after taking part in practice yesterday and shootaround today, he expects to be available tonight as well. Jeremy Lin’s ‘game-time’ designation carries with it less room for optimism, however. He missed this morning’s shootaround and yesterday’s practice, making him doubtful to play due to the back injury he sustained last Friday night against Golden State. Omer Asik (thigh contusion) is out.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.