The Bulls return home this evening to meet the high-powered Houston Rockets in their only Windy City visit this season.
Chicago is also looking to notch its first two-game win streak on the year after grounding the Hawks down in Atlanta, 113-93, on Wednesday. Tomas Satoransky posted a career-best 27 points, as well as seven rebounds and eight assists to lead the way. The 6'7 swingman, who had not scored more than nine in any game prior to this one, shot 10-of-13 from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
Fueled by Satoransky's big night, and veteran forward Otto Porter Jr.'s hot start, the Bulls went on a 28-6 run in the opening quarter to take control and were never challenged the rest of the way. Porter Jr. knocked down a couple of 3s in the opening minutes of the game and ended his night with 13 points in just 12 minutes of action. The veteran forward suffered a minor foot contusion during the second quarter and didn't return to the floor after the half, but then again Chicago was in complete control by that time and thus he wasn't needed.
One night after blowing a 19-point lead and losing to the Lakers at the United Center, 118-112, this Atlanta thumping hopefully provides Chicago a confidence boost.
Against the Hawks the Bulls connected on 13-of-33 from behind the arc (39.4%). Lauri Markkanen also added 17 points, while three others reached double figures. As a team Chicago dished 26 assists on 41 made shots and forced Atlanta to commit 24 turnovers.
As for Houston, the Rockets come to town winners of two straight after losing two-in-a-row. On the season they're 5-3. Last year they got off to a slow start to the season, standing 11-14 at one point before going 42-15 over their last 57 games.
In their last outing, which took place at home against Golden State on Wednesday, the Rockets got off to a somewhat slow start, trailing by one at the end of the opening quarter and then trailing 46-42 with a little less than five minutes to go in the half before hitting the ignition switch and running out an 11-point lead after 24 minutes. Seven-time All-Star James Harden torched the nets for 20 in the second and ended with a game-high 36 points on the night to go along with 13 assists.
When it was all said and done Houston came out on top, 129-112, outshooting the Warriors 49.5% to 39.6% from the field. The Rockets also shot a blistering 46.7% from behind the arc (21-of-45). Backing up Harden's 36-point night, Russell Westbrook contributed 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists, while veteran forward PJ Tucker added 22 and 11, and center Clint Capela chipped in 19 and 16.
As for tonight, Chicago once again must stay focused for all 48 minutes. Most of the time the Bulls have been able to find an early groove, sometimes running out to comfortable double-digit leads. However, somewhere along the way they have suddenly lost their way and faded down the stretch. If they are really hoping to give Houston a problem, the Bulls are going to need to stay poised and locked in from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
Defensively, Chicago will obviously need to keep close tabs on Harden and Westbrook at both ends of the court. The two are averaging over 20 points a game this season, with Harden leading the league overall at 36.5 per night.
As a team, Houston ranks third in scoring at 120.5 points a game, with most coming from behind the arc, as they also lead the league in 3-point attempts (47.8) and makes (15.8). Thus collectively, the Bulls must trust one another defensively, keeping their heads up and never fail to rotate and/or jump out at a shooter when needed. As a team they need to deny Harden and Westbrook the ability to freely swing the ball around the arc and find open teammates cutting through the paint. The Bulls have to make the Rockets work for every shot they take, and they must also be willing to fight hard on the glass for every rebound and dive after loose ball.
Offensively, the Bulls need to storm out of the gates fast and never relax. Much like Houston, they are most effective when they establish a fast pace. To succeed, Chicago must also freely share the ball, making it hop from player-to-player, getting everyone involved. To create scoring opportunities, they can't afford to stand around and watch what's going on. The Bulls need to constantly move, and consistently look to make the extra pass in order to open paths to the hoop and free looks at the rim from beyond the 3-point arc.