The Bulls dropped to 3-7 with their 117-94 loss to the Rockets Saturday night at the United Center. Here are four observations:
Wendell Carter Jr. has been the most consistent player this season
The second-year big man posted his sixth double-double in 10 games after posting seven in 44 games last season. It featured a career-high 16 rebounds with 13 points.
Carter’s communication on defense helped backstop a strong first-half effort before the wheels fell off.
His ability to make an impact on the offensive end with so few plays called for him has stood out this season. His ability to play within himself and play to his strengths underscores a maturity which belies his age.
This was supposed to be the season Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen took the next step. Thus far, Carter has taken the biggest.
Carter said he has talked to coach Jim Boylen about having so few plays called for him.
"It doesn’t really bother me. It’s just a conversation I had with Coach. I said, ‘Coach, I’m going to do what I have to do on both ends. One or two play calls is not going to hurt,’" Carter said. "We’ve had our conversation, so we’re good."
The Bulls can’t beat the Rockets at their own game
The Bulls lead the NBA in shots within 5 feet and are sixth behind the league-leading Rockets in 3-point attempts.
They have a long way to go to reach the Rockets’ level.
The Bulls continued a season-long issue by clanking 3-pointer after 3-pointer. They finished 4-for-32 from that range and were outscored from beyond the arc 57-12.
Boylen brushed aside postgame questions about whether the Bulls need to change their offensive approach despite struggling from 3-point range all season.
"Who had better shots in the first half, us or them? Who had better shots, do you guys think? We did. We made them in Atlanta. We didn’t make them tonight. They made them and we didn’t. Give them credit," Boylen said. "We have guys shooting below their career averages by multiple points. Will that turn? I think it will. It’s frustrating when it doesn’t. I get it. Believe me. I’m sitting there with it too."
LaVine and Markkanen combined to miss 11 of 12. LaVine, in particular, struggled with shot selection and ball security in the second half after a solid first half, particularly at the defensive end.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for 68 points. LaVine and Markkanen scored 24. The Rockets know what they’re getting from their stars pretty much every night. The Bulls can’t say the same for the players they want to be their stars.
"We’ve struggled to finish plays at the rim and struggled to make open shots. I think as the game goes on, it kind of wears our spirit down a little bit," Boylen said. "To me, it’s what happens to a young team. And it’s part of this growing process. I’m going to keep coaching and teaching these guys. We played three really good quarters against the Lakers. We played four really good quarters against Atlanta. We were down one at the half tonight. They doubled us up in the third quarter and that was the difference in the game. They made shots in the third and we didn’t. That’s what happened. All the clouds are cleared away now. That’s what happened. To come in here and think I’m going to change my system or change what we’ve been doing, it’s not what I’m about."
Chandler Hutchison showed more good than bad
Starting for the first time this season for the injured Otto Porter Jr., Hutchison powered home three dunks in the first half but missed a fourth and made some questionable decisions. On one possession, he threw the ball away rather than dribble it upcourt himself, which is one of his strengths.
He showed some nice aggressiveness rebounding in traffic and sprinted the floor hard. He even sank a second-half 3-pointer and continued to attack the rim, finally getting that fourth dunk. He finished with 13 points and mostly focused on his strengths — defense and rebounding.
The defense showed teeth in the first half before getting buried in an avalanche of 3-pointers
The Bulls held the league’s second-highest scoring team to 20 first-quarter points and 3.5 below their average of 120.5 points. They did so with active hands and aggressive trapping on pick-and-rolls.
This strategy backfired when Luke Kornet re-entered the first-half rotation and the Rockets repeatedly attacked him. But LaVine, in particular, looked engaged when isolated in individual matchups against Harden.
The Bulls have forced at least 15 turnovers in every game this season. They lead the league in forcing turnovers and finished with 14 steals.
"Defensively, to start the game, I felt like we were locked in. I felt we knocked some balls loose and stole the ball," Boylen said. "What I didn’t like is we fouled them early. Harden got fouled on 95 3s last year for three free throws. And we started the game with that. That’s a learning moment against Houston. Down one at the half, we hung in there and we hadn’t shot well. Third quarter, they shot the ball really well. And I thought it hurt our energy, it hurt our pace. They hit us with that barrage and we never really recovered."
Harden took over in the second half, scoring 22 of his 42 points and just missing a triple double with 10 rebounds and nine assists.Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Bulls easily on your device.