Here are the observations from the Bulls' 116-107 loss to the Houston Rockets Monday night at the United Center:
Rockets Red Glare: Fred Hoiberg’s offense is heavy on the 3-point attempts and insistent on space, but Mike D’Antoni’s system is if you pressed the fast-forward button on Hoiberg’s—dizzying defenses with a hailstorm of triples and sending even the most sound schemes into chaos.
Which meant it wasn’t a good dance partner for the Bulls’ defensive woes, as illustrated by the first few minutes of Monday’s contest when the Rockets blitzed the Bulls 25-11 in the first seven minutes.
They looked shell-shocked and ill-prepared as the lead swelled to 21 minutes later.
“We were in a little bit of awe with them coming out and hitting shots,” Hoiberg said. “I thought we came out of the gates flat. It was awful early, but a lot of that was them hitting shots.”
Two things are clear with the Rockets: There’s gonna be plenty of space to operate, and if they stop hitting shots, you can find a way to get back into the game.
Each was on full display through the 48-minute period, as Trevor Ariza kept shaking loose in transition and the Bulls could not locate Eric Gordon behind the long line.
The Bulls were having recent issues against middle of the road offensive teams, then had to face Chris Paul playing maestro with his team in the midst of a bad streak. The only solace was that James Harden’s hamstring injury made him unavailable, but it was little solace.
The Rockets hit 20 triples against the Bulls, the best output against the Bulls but it wasn’t close to the Rockets’ season-high—they torched the Jazz for 23 triples in early November.
Paul and Gordon each scored 24 with nine assists, Ariza hit six triples for 18 points and Clint Capela was a monster for 15 points and 16 rebounds.
All wasn’t lost, however: The Bulls shook off the early start to make it a nearly even game by halftime, thanks to Bobby Portis. Like a shot of espresso, Portis injected the Bulls with life in the second quarter.
Without Nikola Mirotic in the lineup, Portis became a primary offensive option and he delivered in a 33-point second quarter for the Bulls. Yes, he flexed and preened but he produced in 33 minutes, scoring 22 points with four rebounds.
“He had great aggressiveness,” Hoiberg said. “We were a little stone-faced when they hit us with that haymaker.”
(Apparently Hoiberg has no problem using the boxing analogies again.)
It wasn’t just Portis though, as Kris Dunn found life after looking pretty nondescript early, and three Rockets tried their hands at Dunn when he started getting to the basket and doing his best Paul impersonation of getting to the midrange area.
He finished with a respectable stat line of 19 points, eight assists and four rebounds, but even he knew the time the Bulls spent being overwhelmed by the Rockets bit them in the long run.
“We kept giving ourselves chances to come back. At one point we took the lead and they hit two threes in a row,” Dunn said. “We kept knocking at the door and they just kept hitting two threes every time we got close.”
The Bulls did rebound and take a 64-62 lead in the third quarter on a Dunn jumper but it never got larger than 66-63. The Rockets absorbed the Bulls’ comeback and restored order to 81-71 with three minutes left in the third.
Speaking of haymakers: Gerald Green, ladies and gentlemen. He keeps doing things like this to the Bulls. Whether it’s a Game 3 in the First Round as a member of the Celtics or Monday where he came off the bench a few games after getting picked up by the Rockets, it’s a pretty cool thing to see.
He scored 22 off the bench, including four triples and some devastating dunks that would make Zach LaVine blush.
Speaking of LaVine: The Bulls were supposed to have an update but John Paxson will address the media Tuesday morning before practice. It’s tough to see him playing against the New York Knicks Wednesday for a debut but Saturday night in Chicago, against the Detroit Pistons—the team he tore his ACL against last season—would appear to be a prudent observation.
But then again, these are the Bulls.
Niko update: The trade season has been quiet so far but the Bulls are hoping to be part of a flurry of activity soon enough.
January 15th is a week away—the first day the Bulls are eligible to trade Nikola Mirotic, assuming he consents to a deal. Although Mirotic has helped the Bulls win games since his return from his incident with teammate Bobby Portis, both Mirotic and the Bulls appear to want the same thing.
Mirotic has a no-trade clause due to his restricted free-agent status over the summer, which complicates things to a degree. And the Bulls want future assets over immediate help in return, as in a first-round draft pick.
So far, the market for Mirotic has been described as “tepid”, according to a league source. The Utah Jazz have engaged in discussions with the Bulls, but to this point, the Bulls don’t want to take on Alec Burks’ $11.5 million for 2018-19 without the Jazz attaching a draft pick.
The Jazz could offer a protected first-rounder, considering they’re on the outside of the playoff picture in the West. But talks have not progressed since the two sides making initial contact weeks ago.