Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Game No. 27 Preview, Bulls-Rockets: Been A Long Time Gone

Chicago Bulls (15-11) vs. Houston Rockets (14-12)
The Opponent 

The Bulls faced the Rockets once before this season, a 93-89 loss in Houston that continued what was already a rough mid-late November for Chicago. 

In the loss, their third in a row at the time, the Bulls shot a measly 40% from the field. Nonetheless, the Bulls took an 84-79 lead into the home stretch after Nate Robinson hit a three at the 4:41 mark in the fourth quarter. In what was many quintessential "this is what happens when Derrick Rose is absent" games, the Bulls did not score again until there were 7 seconds left in the game, just over four and a half minutes of being shut out on offense in the most important portion of the game. 

Since that defeat in Houston, the Rockets have rattled off a nice stretch of play, going 9-5 and picking up wins against the Knicks (twice), Memphis and the Lakers (if that means anything right now). In any case, the Rockets are definitely trending upward. 

PF Patrick Patterson, who really hurt the Bulls last time around (20 pts, 8 rebounds), continues to be out with a foot injury; Marcus Morris (8.9 ppg) takes his place in the starting lineup. As always, the brunt of the offensive burden will fall on James Harden (25.6 ppg, 22.9 PER) and Chandler Parsons (14.7 ppg). Parsons can get up and down the floor, so if Deng is still looking as banged up as he did Saturday night against Atlanta, he might be able to have a game against the Bulls tonight. 

Likewise, Belinelli on Harden is another frightening matchup, albeit for different reasons. On the bright side, these are the numbers from last year when Belinelli and Harden were on the floor at the same time (with Belinelli in New Orleans, obviously): 

Small sample size, so who knows. Like the Knicks game, I imagine we'll get liberal amounts of Jimmy Butler in this one. Carmelo Anthony and James Harden are different players, obviously, but Butler has proven himself equal to the challenge. 

Otherwise, our old friend Omer Asik is busy averaging 10.6 ppg, which is kind of irritating after everyone spent his stint in Chicago bemoaning his lack of any sort of offensive ability. Thanks, Omer! 

 "you're welcome"

Also, the Rockets have this guy named Jeremy Lin, who you may have heard of; it has been a somewhat up and down season offensively for the former Knick, but he has been playing very weel of late. The month of November has seen a pretty sizable uptick in all the relevant numbers: 13.5 ppg, up from 10.2 in October; 48% from the field, up from 35%; and 35% from 3, up from 26%.

Lin was 2-for-9 for 4 points the last time around, with five turnovers to just three assists; the Bulls' guards will need to duplicate this sort of defensive performance if the Bulls are going to keep pace.

Points of Concern 

As always, James Harden provides an offensive threat that is often impossible to defend. The odds of Belinelli being able to hang with Harden with any sort of consistency are not good, which means that the Bulls will have to go with Butler, who doesn't provide much offense himself. Managing this spot in the lineup is kind of like plugging a hole in a dam; another leak will always spring up. 

As a team, the Rockets lead the league in points per game (105.4 per).  Luckily, they're second to last in points allowed (103.4 per), making them pretty much the complete antithesis of the Bulls. Regardless, a potent offensive attack against this Bulls team, one that can go silent for stretches of four or five minutes at a time, is a little worrisome.

Asik, as we know, is a staunch presence in the middle, and even blocked Joakim Noah dunk attempts twice the last time around. Noah and the rest of the frontcourt will need to finish around the basket against the Turkish Tower.

What Needs To Happen 

The Bulls didn't really do anything egregious the last time around other than completely faltering offensively in the last five minutes of the first contest in Houston. Other than that, the Bulls had held Lin in check, took care of the ball relatively well and didn't let Houston shoot an exceptional percentage.

In short, shut down the Lin pick and roll game again with Morris/Asik. Don't let the Rockets get into transition; as always, this means good shots and fewer long rebounds on the offensive end. If this becomes the proverbial track meet, the Bulls will be like that one sad guy trailing in the back of an Olympic 100-meter run.

Useless Prediction Time 
  • Jeremy Lin once again struggles from the field against the Bulls. 
  • The Bulls rebounded 28% of their misses last time against Houston, with Patterson out this time around, I expect that number to go up to about 33-35%. 
  • Jimmy Butler is averaging over 2 minutes per game more than his season average in his last ten games. He logged 30 minutes against Houston the first time around, and I'd imagine that he'll get close to or exceed that number tonight. 
  • Playing at home, the Bulls do just enough to pick off a rising Houston team (I have nothing to based this feeling off of save holiday cheer). Bulls 96, Rockets 94.

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