The Bulls went to Houston and they had the problem.
It was the Rockets with a blast of three pointers and their passing and shooting game that sent the Bulls plummeting in a 118-86 loss to the Rockets.
It wasn’t much of a contest from the start even with the Rockets resting their certain league Most Valuable Player James Harden. Eric Gordon had 31 points and eight threes in fewer than 30 minutes as the Rockets took a 40-point lead midway through the third quarter. The Rockets opened the game with a 14-5 lead, but the Bulls responded and Houston led 31-23 after one quarter. But the Rockets exploded from there with a 60-39 halftime lead and then a 23-4 start to the second half. Houston was 18 of 57 for the game on threes.
The Bulls were led by Lauri Markkanen with 22 points, but he was the only starter to score in double figures. Sean Kilpatrick in his first game with the Bulls had 12 points, but just two through three quarters. Denzel Valentine also had 12 points. Noah Vonleh had 10 points and 12 rebounds. Bobby Portis had 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Bulls now are 24-50 and go into Miami for a back to back with Orlando. The Rockets moved to 61-14.
The Bulls were without injured Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine, Paul Zipser and Antonio Blakeney. Paul started for Houston after being out recently as the Rockets came in having won 26 of 27 and with the best record in the NBA. The Rockets also rested starting center Clint Capella. Nene started, but the Rockets quickly went to their all small, shooting lineup. The Bulls started Cameron Payne, Justin Holiday, David Nwaba, Markkanen and Cristiano Felicio. Felicio suffered back spasms and sat out the second half. Portis started the second half for Felicio. Robin Lopez was active, but did not play.
The Bulls got a big quarter from Markkanen with 14 of the first 16 Bulls points and a chase down block after a turnover. But the Rockets, predictably, were firing up three pointers, making four of their first five and seven of 13 in the quarter for a 31-23 lead. It was 14-5 Houston to send the Bulls into the first timeout. Markkanen rallied the Bulls within 14-12 posting up the smaller Rockets defenders. But Houston keeps increasing the pace, which baits opponents into that game and the Rockets went back ahead 29-16 before a strong Bulls close behind Portis. New Bull Sean Kilpatrick got a nice start with a layup off a Portis pass to open the second quarter and Noah Vonleh swiped a pass from Paul and ran out for a layup. But the Bulls could not cut the deficit as Houston began driving and getting to the free throw line, the Rockets with a 42-32 midway through the second quarter. The way the Rockets play and and switch often, there are opportunities to go inside, especially for a team like the Bulls with taller players. But the Bulls continued to fall into the trap of pulling up for quick threes, going dry for six straight possessions with four threes as the Rockets went on an 11-0 run with four free throws. That gave Houston a 51-32 lead with four minutes left in the first half. The Bulls continued to eschew the smart play and indicative was the Bulls with a last shot of the half. Holiday pulled up a bit too early, giving Paul a few seconds to drive the ball all the way for an Gordon three and 60-39 Houston halftime lead. Markkanen was scoreless in the second quarter after banging his elbow on the head of P.J. Tucker going for a rebound. Markkanen was shaking his arm much of the quarter afterward. Gordon had 24 first half points and six of nine threes with the Rockets attempting 32 threes in the half.
The Rockets piled up the points and their margin through the middle of the fourth quarter, taking an 83-43 lead with 5:07 left in the third with Paul with between his legs and behind his back passes for Rockets scores. The Rockets were often making more passes per possession than the Bulls had assists in the game, the Bulls with just five on their first 17 baskets. The Bulls finally responded with an 11-0 run and some pressure on the Houston shooters to cut Houston’s lead to 87-57 going into the fourth quarter.