GAME NIGHT FROM THE UNITED CENTER: Houston: (27-11, 13-5 on the road), Bulls: 14-26, 9-10 at home)
TV: NBC Sports Chicago: Neil Funk and Stacey King. 7PM tipoff.
RADIO: WLS 890 AM: Chuck Swirsky, Bill Wennington and Stacey King. 6:30 CT pre.
LEADING SCORERS: Bulls: Mirotic: 17ppg. Houston: Harden: 32ppg (will not play), Gordon: 19 ppg.
LEADING REBOUNDERS: Bulls: Markkanen and Mirotic each with 7. Houston: Cappella: 11.
LEADING ASSISTS: Bulls: Dunn: 6. Houston: Paul: 9.
CCI 24 SECONDS COMMENTARY: The Bulls are coming off a rugged week of games. They’re allowing 125 points over the past four games. The Saturday game at Indiana is a distant memory. That game is not indicative of how the Bulls have been playing of late. What they must do tonight is take it right to the Rockets from the opening tip. Detroit played without Andre Drummond and managed a victory Saturday. Obviously, without the NBA’s leading scorer James Harden (32 per game) it’s going to impact the Rockets in so many ways, so all the more reason for the Bulls to seize the moment. Houston has lost seven out of its last nine games. They are 1-2 without Harden. The Rockets gave up 108 points to Detroit. They scored only 101 and just 98 vs Orlando. Despite the loss of Harden, the Rockets do have a ton of talent as veteran Chris Paul is having another "Chris Paul" season with 17 points 9 assists. But, he has played in only 21 games due to injuries, suffering an early season knee issue and lately an adductor strain. If I’m the Bulls, I take the ball out of Paul’s hands. Let someone else make plays, not Paul, who is a lock for the Hall of Fame. The most compelling player on the Rockets is center Clint Capela. Capela, a late first round pick in 2014, is athletic and is rim protector. He’s an outstanding roll to the rim player on pick and roll, and a dream for any coach. He came into the league as a project, but the Rockets have done a terrific job developing his skill set. He leads the NBA in field goal percentage at 67%. Eric Gordon is not having the kind of season he did a year ago, when he captured the Sixth Man Award, but is still capable of going off on any given night. If the Bulls take care of the ball, they can beat Houston at the UC.
BULLS AT HALFWAY POINT: Suspension, injuries and everything in between, the Bulls play their 41st of 82 games tonight. What has CCI learned about the Bulls? In no particular order:
1. I’d do the Minnesota deal again and again and again, as would Minnesota. No losers in the deal. None. Butler is thriving as expected in Minnesota.
2. Lauri Markkanen is a future multiple All Star player. I will bet my career on it. He’s poised beyond his 20 years on the planet. He’s a basketball player, just not a wing shooter. He’s getting a ton of positive publicity from the media, but more importantly respect from executives, coaches and players.
3. Kris Dunn is developing into a solid NBA player with room for improvement. Learning the point guard position is extremely difficult to master, but he wants to be a great player, not a good player. I like that. It’s an on the job growing and learning experience. Coach Hoiberg has given Dunn confidence and the ability to play through mistakes. Dunn can get to the rim. He can defend. He’s a willing passer. He needs to cut down on fouls and turnovers, but Dunn with a new system is a great story for the 2017-18 Bulls. He just needs to be consistent.
4. Love Rolo. I can’t say enough about him. He’s a terrific teammate. Thinks of others ahead of himself and never takes himself seriously. But on the court, he’s all business and is an underrated low post scorer.
5. Justin Holiday is all class. Win or lose, he never avoids answering the hard questions after games. He’s accepted the leadership role with accountability and responsibility.
6. David Nwaba: One of the great feel good stories in the NBA this year. Drive, hustle, passion, selfless.
7. Mirotic and Portis: they play well together on the floor, and that’s all I care about. They pass, communicate, and have produced; it’s all about the team. Whatever the future holds, I wish them all the best, as chapters in life change by the moment.
8. Head Coach Fred Hoiberg: After a 3-20 start, the Bulls are taking small steps, but ones of growth and development. I love the pacing, ball movement, and involvement of all five players on the court. Players enjoy playing for Coach Hoiberg, and with the expected return of Zach Lavine, the Bulls will run a more potent offense as Lavine integrates himself in to the offensive schemes. Coach is a class act and I appreciate the manner in which he treats everyone in the organization.
9. Defense remains an issue, however, and the Bulls need to clean things up on that side of the ball. The sooner the better.
10. Bulls fans. Hang in. The core group is making progress. The Bulls have a way to go, but I know you appreciate the hard work that is being put in and laying the foundation for a brighter tomorrow.
Wins and losses take care of itself, and I truly enjoy being around this team. Great character and people.
NBA NEWS AND NOTES
I promised not to comment on anything to do with the reality circus of the Ball family, but I can’t help myself. For Lonzo Ball’s father to publicly go off on Lakers Head Coach Luke Walton is unacceptable and undermines his son’s relationship with other players in the locker room, and puts Lonzo in an awkward situation. To his credit, Lonzo Ball said he can play for anyone, and that Walton has not lost the locker room. There is always drama at different levels, but for a parent of an NBA player to continually criticize a head coach is rather strange. It’s not healthy for anyone involved. Mavs Coach Rick Carlisle blasted ESPN for its coverage of the senior Ball ripping the Lakers coach. Others I’m sure agree with Carlisle, but won’t go public with their sentiments.
The Lakers snapped a nine game losing streak, ripping the Hawks.
The Knicks won for only the fourth time on the road in a victory at Dallas. NY snapped a three-game losing streak and host the Bulls Wednesday night.
Make it 14 triple doubles for Russell Westbrook, but his Thunder lost to Phoenix.
Terrific game in Miami, as the Heat edged the Jazz. Donovan Mitchell is so good. I love this rookie class.
The Spurs announced Kawhi Leonard has suffered a partially torn left shoulder. Without Leonard and Lillard, the Blazers edged the Spurs by one.
Always a pleasure. Go Bulls!