Dec 18, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Chicago Bulls power forward Carlos Boozer (5) dunks the ball against Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) during the first quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Rockets came into this week playing the toughest part of their schedule this season: 4 straight games against 4 of the best teams in the NBA. Having split the first two games against the Portland Trail Blazers and Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets make a stop in Chicago to face a tough, defensive-minded Bulls team before being showcased on Sunday afternoon in front of a national audience against the Miami Heat.
This could hardly be classified as a “trap game”, but it almost could have the feel for it. The Rockets have handled the Bulls well in recent history; their lone trip to Chicago last season on Christmas ended in a commanding win, but with the way the Bulls have played of late, nothing will come easy Thursday night. Here are some keys for the Rockets:
Push The Pace
The Rockets have fallen to 7th in the NBA in PACE, averaging 98.27 possessions per game, which is still a high mark, but the Bulls are the second-to-last slowest team, while ranking 2nd in defensive rating(98 points allowed per 100 possessions) and 2nd in points allowed in the paint. Each possession for the Rockets will be important, and getting efficient shot attempts and looks every time down the floor is a must, as there might not be too many opportunities for that.
Howard VS Noah
This has the potential to be one of those classic center battles, with Joakim Noah up for the running for both MVP and Defensive Player of The Year. Dwight Howard is coming off one of his worst games of the season at OKC, finishing with just 9 points on 4 of 12 shooting, and making just 1 of 6 free throws.
In the games against the Blazers and Thunder, the Rockets trailed by 16 points in the 3rd quarter before coming back to win, and 18 points in the 4th quarter before rallying, respectively. The Bulls are not a team who usually blows late leads with the way they are defensively, so being focused for the complete 48 minutes is a point of emphasis.
Tip: 6 PM CT