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Bulls vs. Rockets game preview and open thread

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Mirotic-Less Bulls welcome Harden-less Rockets

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls (14-26) vs. Houston Rockets (27-11)

7 p.m., NBC Sports Chicago

Injury Report:

Please sit down, because this injury report is really long.

Nikola Mirotic has a stomach virus and is doubtful for the game tonight.

MVP candidate James Harden continues to sit after suffering a Grade 2 hamstring strain in a game on Dec. 31. He’s expected to return in mid-January.

Big man Nene is listed as out for the game tonight with a right knee contusion. Defensive stalwart Luc Mbah a Moute remains out indefinitely after dislocating his shoulder on Dec. 13. Forward Troy Williams will continue to sit out with an MCL sprain in his right knee.

Preview:

The Rockets come into this game without their perennial MVP candidate, veteran big man, and best defensive stopper. They’ve lost seven of their last nine games and limp into Chicago having lost their last two games and the Bulls have a decent 9-10 record at home (relative to their overall record). The Bulls were non-competitive in an embarrassing 125-86 loss against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday evening and therefore should have a chip on their shoulder in their quest for redemption. The Bulls finally had a day of rest on Sunday, after “schedule loss” virtually pre-determined the outcome of that game against the Pacers.

All of these factors should tip the odds for this game in the Bulls favor then, right? Not so fast. Mirotic is out with a stomach virus and the Bulls are more than ten points better offensively when he is on the court.

The Rockets also still have nine-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul at the point. Eric Gordon is still one of the best microwave scorers in the NBA, and has averaged 19.5 points per game this season on 42.3 percent from the field. At 23 years old, Clint Capela is one of the best young centers in the game. He’s averaged a double-double across the entirety of the season and has the tenth most double-doubles in the NBA this season with 19.

Stopping the Rockets high-powered offensive attack (second in offensive rating, fifth in points per game, tenth in field goal percentage) comes down to two things: limiting them from 3-point land and not fouling.

The Rockets lead the NBA with 43.3 3-point field goal attempts per game (second place is the Brooklyn Nets at 33.9 attempts per contest) and although they are just 15th in the NBA in 3-point field goal percentage (36.5 percent) the sheer volume of threes they shoot means they make more than three more three pointers per game (15.8) than the second best team in this category (Cleveland Cavaliers at 12.5 3-point makes per game).

The Rockets also thrive at the charity stripe. They shoot 79.6 percent as a team and take 25.8 free throws per game which is the fourth-highest volume in the NBA. That number has plummeted since Harden (who leads the NBA in free-throw attempts per game) went down with injury. But Gordon and Paul get to the charity stripe at fairly healthy rates, and they shoot 82.6 and 92.6 percent respectively so fouling them is virtually free points.

Chicago Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg has seen his defense run out of luck, and specifically listed pick-and-roll defense as another key for this game. Paul and Gordon are in the 71st and 78th percentile respectively as the ball handler in pick-and-rolls.

The Bulls are looking to extend some franchise history tonight, and against a Mike D’Antoni team they just may do it.