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Preview: Rockets at Bulls

Setting the scene for Houston's matchup with the Chicago Bulls

CHICAGO - Setting the scene for Houston’s matchup with the Chicago Bulls:

The Basics:

Houston Rockets (44-20) at Chicago Bulls (35-29)

Point Differential:

Chicago: +0.8 (NBA rank: 14th)

Houston: +4.8 (NBA rank: 7th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Chicago: 101.2 (27th)

Houston: 108.6 (T-5th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Chicago: 97.7 (2nd)

Houston: 101.5 (7th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Chicago: 92.45 (29th)

Houston: 98.35 (9th)

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: 47.8% (26th)

Houston: 53.3% (4th)

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

Chicago: 16.0 (26th)

Houston: 16.5 (29th)

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

Chicago: 53.0% (T-1st); offensive rebound rate: 28.4% (6th); defensive rebound rate: 76.9% (3rd)

Houston: 52.0% (7th); offensive rebound rate: 28.1% (T-7th); defensive rebound rate: 73.0% (T-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: .287 (T-15th)

Houston: .388 (1st)

Can we start calling Tom Thibodeau ‘Miracle Max’ already? Despite all the injuries, tumult and roster turnover that have taken place in Chicago, the Bulls’ head coach just keeps finding ways to grind out win after win with the talent that remains on hand. That’s not a knock on that talent, by the way – Joakim Noah is both artist and warrior at the center position, Taj Gibson is a long, beastly and bouncy defender, and Jimmy Butler is an emerging player at the two-guard position.

Still, how many coaches could coax this sort of win rate out of a team that suffered through yet another disheartening season-ending injury to former MVP Derrick Rose and then watched as heart-and-soul workhorse Luol Deng got dealt to Cleveland prior to the trade deadline? Thibodeau has managed the trick, rallying his troops to play the kind of suffocating defense that has been the trademark of his teams for years. The end result: Chicago owns a 26-14 mark since the Bulls and Rockets last faced off, and has won 11 of its last 15 games, a stretch that includes victories over the likes of Phoenix, Brooklyn, Golden State, Dallas and Miami.

Like their coach, the Bulls will work, grind and stay true to their system. There’s nothing miraculous about their formula for success. But the results they continue to attain in spite of all the injuries – it’s enough to think at least a little magic is involved.

Know Thy Enemy

- So all those points of emphasis we mentioned last week while detailing what makes the Pacers’ defense so destructive? You can apply nearly all of them to Chicago as well.

As has been the case for years now, Chicago does just about everything a defense needs to do in order to be successful in today’s NBA. The Bulls are top-5 in field goal percentage allowed from the restricted area, force their opposition to take more midrange shots per game than anyone outside of Indiana, and concede the third-fewest corner 3s in the league. Thanks to Chicago’s excellent glass cleaning, the Bulls also allow the second-fewest pace-adjusted second chance points per game, and they’re also third in the NBA in pace-adjusted paint points conceded. You get the idea.

Simply put, the best way to attack the Bulls’ stout D is to push the tempo, play with pace and blitz them before they’re able to get set. Chicago’s half-court defense is nothing short of awesome. But attack them in transition and there will be holes to be found and eventually exploited.

- One final note on the Bulls’ defense: Though Chicago plays tough and physically on that end of the floor, its players rarely foul. The Bulls boast the second-lowest foul rate in the league, and though they lost to Houston 109-94 back in December, Chicago only sent the free throw-happy Rockets to the line 16 times that night.

- The picture painted is not nearly so rosy when describing Chicago’s offense, however. Though the Bulls have put points on the board at closer to a league average rate of late, they’re still very much prone to periods in which scoring is a serious struggle. Their elite offensive rebounding helps somewhat as Chicago sits third in terms of pace-adjusted second chance points per game.

But in most other areas involving offense, the numbers are not nearly so kind. The Bulls are bottom third in pace-adjusted fast break points, and bottom-5 in terms of pace-adjusted paint points, corner 3s taken and their hit rate from that location. Though on that final point, take note: Chicago has hit more than 42 percent of its 3-point attempts from the left corner; from the right side, however, its hit rate is just a shade better than 30 percent.

- One can’t discuss the Bulls these days without waxing poetic about Joakim Noah. He recently became the first center to record triple-doubles twice in the span of three games since … Shawn Bradley (never would have guessed that one, would you? Bradley, in fact, delivered triple-doubles in back-to-back games in 1996). Noah has established himelf as the game’s preeminent passing big, compiling an assist rate higher than that of All-Star caliber point guards such as Tony Parker, Mike Conley, Goran Dragic, Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving. Think about that for a minute.

With Rose sidelined and D.J. Augustin being more of a scoring-oriented point, Noah frequently serves as the essential, facilitating hub of Chicago’s offense, picking out cutters with his pinpoint passes. When the 29-year-old center is on the floor, the Bulls’ offense scores at a rate of nearly 101 points per 100 possessions; when he sits, that number plummets to the unwatchable depths of 94.3.

- Speaking of D.J. Augustin, the renaissance he’s enjoyed with the Bulls has been eye-opening to say the least. Last year with the Pacers, Augustin was virtually unplayable, producing a career-low PER of 11.04. This season, however, his player efficiency rating is close to a career-best, currently resting at 15.84.

The 26-year-old out of the University of Texas excels as an efficient scorer via screen and rolls (Synergy ranks him in the 85th percentile in that category) and he’s averaging nearly 21 points per game this month while shooting better than 54 percent from the field and close to 47 percent from beyond the 3-point line. He's not a great playmaker for others, but on a Bulls team starving for someone who can consistently create his own offense, Augustin has filled a need and done so better than most anyone could have anticipated.

In the spotlight

This spot is reserved for the hometown kid today, as Patrick Beverley prepares to play in front of the Chicago fans for the first time in his professional career. The Windy City native is expecting more than 50 friends and family at tonight’s contest, and he made no effort to hide the added meaning that tonight’s contest promises to hold for him.

“I’m very excited,” he said following this morning’s shootaround. “I’m just happy to play in front of my longtime friends and family who are going to be at the game. I haven’t been able to play at home in a long time.

“I tell my friends, my family and my mother the same thing: Look how far I’ve come in a year and how much things have changed. I’m definitely fortunate for everything I’ve earned up to this point and it’s definitely a dream come true.”

Injury Update

Greg Smith (knee) is out.

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