I had pretty low expectations going into the Bulls' road tilt against the Rockets on Wednesday night, as Chicago tends to struggle with the fast-paced teams out West. Oh, and the fact that the Bulls hadn't been able to throw the ball in the ocean of late played into that line of thinking as well.
The Bulls actually played reasonably well for a good chunk of the game, and for a while there, the faint idea of an upset crossed my mind. But after the Bulls closed to within three points midway through the third quarter, the offense went through one of its patented slumps and the quick-strike Rockets exploded, finishing the frame on a 15-1 run to effectively end all hope. Houston cruised in the fourth quarter to a 109-94 win. That's now three losses in a row and six losses out of seven for Chicago.
The Bulls started out looking like the same old Bulls, shooting 6-of-21 in the first quarter and falling behind by eight after one. Then a funny thing happened. The offense actually started to click and a strange sense of enjoyment watching Bulls Basketball washed over me. Luol Deng did nice some work in the post against the smallish Rockets, and there were other offensive contributions abound, with six players notching at least three points in the quarter.
Of course, the Bulls couldn't stop the Rockets to save their life, so despite putting up a whopping 30 points in the quarter, there was no ground gained. In fact, the Bulls lost ground thanks to a five-point swing at the end of the half. After Joakim Noah missed two free throws with 2.5 seconds left, Patrick Beverley was able to advance the ball off the inbound pass (while running over somebody) and bury a three as time expired, giving the Rockets an 11-point halftime lead.
The Rockets opened up a 14-point lead at the outset of the second half (thanks to some of the worst defense you'll ever see from Carlos Boozer on Terrence Jones), and they appeared on the verge of blowing things up. That wouldn't come until a bit later though, as the Bulls had one last offensive gasp in them before sputtering out.
While the final score was ugly, there were a few positives. Jimmy Butler had a really solid offensive game, scoring a team-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting. Butler's jumper looked a lot better after a 1-of-11 outing against the Magic, so that was encouraging to see. Deng played well again, finishing with 18 points in ONLY 35 minutes!
D.J. Augustin also did some nice things, scoring eight points and handing out nine assists. Augustin only shot 2-of-6, but he was 2-of-4 from three and is infinitely more enjoyable to watch than Marquis Teague. There really just seems to be a stark difference between those two players, and that says nothing good about Teague considering what had become of Augustin before coming to Chicago.
The Bulls finished shooting a respectable 48.1 percent overall and made 5-of-12 from three, but they went just 13-of-23 from the free throw line and allowed the Rockets to shoot 53.7 percent from the field. Houston dominated down low, outscoring Chicago 66-40 in the paint. Dwight Howard was a major part of that, as the big man finished with 23 points on 11-of-14 from the field. James Harden and Chandler Parsons had 19 points apiece on an efficient 15-of-27 combined.
Things won't be any easier tomorrow, as the Bulls have the pleasure of facing the Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena on TNT. Yippee.