Turn your head for a second, the Houston Rockets will run you out of the building.
But how long did the Chicago Bulls turn their collective heads?
Apparently the Bulls went to sleep in the middle of the game against the Houston Rockets, giving up a run that’s hard to fathom in their 115-94 loss at the United Center, their fourth consecutive defeat in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Only on the vintage arcade game “NBA Jam” could a team go on a 33-2 run in another team’s building, especially a team that has designs on staying in the playoff race with 18 games left to go.
“Wish I could tell you. I don’t know. We was down, they was up. I don’t know,” said Dwyane Wade in a statement that wasn’t as dismissive as it appears, but displaying the simplicity of the matter.
They had no rhythm, in part because there isn’t a consistent rotation and it’s 65 games into the season—something that’s frustrating to the veterans but also an aspect they have no control over.
“Yes, but we need to play who’s on the basketball floor. We have to be ready,” Wade said. “It’s tough when guys don’t know how many minutes they’re going to play. We just need to figure it out.”
The Bulls were overmatched, outworked and unwilling to compete with the Rockets when it became apparent that not even a 13-point Bulls lead would keep them from stalking their opponents.
In between the second and third quarter, the Rockets made their winning surge when James Harden’s triple gave the Rockets a 50-49 lead with 2:08 remaining in the first half.
“We jumped out to a double-digit lead, then they go on a big run and we tried to get it all back at once,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Obviously they’re a team that can get going in a hurry and can get hot. They did that and we didn’t respond well.”
So the talk about the Bulls having fourth-quarter issues in their three-game skid would no longer be necessary as the Rockets decided that narrative was too old to carry on another night.
Now there’s question, reasonable doubt about the Bulls’ objective to make a real run at the playoffs, as the Detroit Pistons, Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks look more like they know who they are at this stage of the season than the Bulls.
Hoiberg, in keeping with management’s objective to play the young guys to evaluate them for the future, played 12 players in the first half
“We’re doing everything we can to compete to win, at the same time we have some young guys we wanna get on the floor. It’s a balance,” Hoiberg said. “It’s guys, we want to get them out there and see how they play then make a decision in the second half.”
When it was mentioned to Hoiberg many teams don’t play 12 in a rotation, he said simply, “yeah, you’re right.”
It seemed like the Bulls forgot how to play at that point, or more pointedly, that a playoff spot is at stake with so precious few games remaining. And smelling blood, the Rockets pounced—one of the few teams capable of taking advantage of the Bulls’ all-around indifference.
“I don’t know. I think everybody is trying to play their role,” Jimmy Butler said. “It’s hard. Because we’re playing a lot of guys. Night in and out, you don’t know what it’s gonna come down to. Who’s gonna play minutes with what lineup. It’s hard. We just gotta keep playing, man. You gotta be a star within that role. It’s not easy but everybody gotta be ready.”
Taking a seven-point lead before the half, they essentially outhustled the Bulls into submission and there was no timeout Hoiberg could call, no smelling salts he could inject into his team that clearly had no feel for the game, no rhythm to fall back on.
By the end of the run, the Rockets led 80-51 and the Bulls all but declared their intentions for competing nil for the night.
It wasn’t Harden having a 50-point game, and no Rocket scored over 20 for the first 44 minutes of the game until Ryan Anderson cracked the mark late, finishing with 21. In fact, the Rockets shot just 32 percent from the 3-point line, below their average, hitting 15 triples.
But they kept launching and kept attacking as trade deadline acquisition Lou Williams came off the bench to score 18—while Bulls deadline acquisition Cameron Payne struggled in the minutes that mattered, getting the bulk of his 11 points when the game was already decided.
The impactful points were scored by Wade, when he emerged from his two-game absence to score 12 in the first quarter and all of his 21 in the first half, when the Bulls had energy and perhaps a little hope.
Jimmy Butler scored 16 with five rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes but the Bulls couldn’t keep up as the Rockets made a laugher out of the alleged contest, shooting just 39 percent and launching 36 triples at a 25 percent clip.
The boo-birds were out with more than 18 minutes left of playing time and they’d seen enough.