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Rockets surge past Bulls 120-97

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Rockets surge past Bulls 120-97

CHICAGO (AP) James Harden scored 26 points and Jeremy Lin added 20 points and 11 assists to lead the Houston Rockets to a 120-97 win over the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night.

Omer Asik returned to the United Center and had a double-double with 20 points and 18 rebounds in his first trip back to Chicago since signing with the Rockets in the offseason.

The Rockets starters all scored in double figures. Chandler Parsons added 23 points and Marcus Morris had 10.

Houston has won six of seven.

The Rockets had been just 3-7 on the road entering Tuesday, but a strong second quarter turned the holiday matchup into a blowout. The Rockets outscored the Bulls 31-19 in the period to break the game open.

Lin capped a 14-2 run midway through the quarter with a drive and a layup to make it 55-34. He scored 12 in the second quarter and Harden had 13.

Houston led 58-41 at halftime.

Nate Robinson led the Bulls with 27 points, and Marco Belinelli scored 15.

Houston entered the game tops in the league in scoring at 105.4 points per game, while Chicago allowed the third-fewest in the league at 91.

Houston, though, was not slowed at all.

The Rockets pushed the pace and shot well against Chicago's defense. The Rockets outscored the Bulls 66-32 in the paint and 31-8 in transition. Their largest lead was 35 points.

The 120 points allowed and 23-point loss were season-worsts for the Bulls.

The Turkish-born Asik spent his first two years in the NBA with Chicago. He signed a three-year, $25 million offer sheet with the Rockets this summer that the Bulls did not match. He entered the game averaging 10.6 points and 11.4 rebounds, and put together perhaps his best game of the season.

Asik received a round of applause when he was introduced at the beginning of the game, but the hospitality didn't last. He quickly heard jeers when he stepped to the free throw line early in the first quarter.

Harden, fourth in the league in scoring, followed up two strong performances - 37 points against Detroit and 45 against Atlanta - with another strong game. He was 7 for 13 from the field and 11 for 13 from the free throw line.

Houston improved to 11-2 against the Eastern Conference.

The Bulls had won nine of 13 to climb into first place in the Eastern Conference's Central Division, but were flat for the second consecutive game. Chicago lost 92-75 Saturday in Atlanta.

Boos came down from the United Center crowd when Asik scored to make it 82-51 in the third quarter.

Chicago cut the Houston lead to 100-85 with just under eight minutes to play in the fourth quarter, but a 6-0 Rockets' run ended the rally.

NOTE: Both teams have quick turnarounds for Wednesday games. The Bulls travel to Indianapolis to play the Pacers and the Rockets visit the Minnesota Timberwolves.

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Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

Despite place in standings, Wizards believe playoffs aren't a pipe dream

WASHINGTON -- This may be the most realistic and self-aware Wizards team we have seen in a while. It wasn't long ago they had a penchant for talking big about what they believed they could accomplish. Nowadays, knowing where they are in the standings, their expectations are much more measured.

They know they are 12th in the Eastern Conference, even after beating the Pistons on Monday. They know their 14-28 record, which is 14 games under .500 and has them on pace to win 27 total games, isn't good.

But the Wizards are allowed to dream and they say making the playoffs is still something they would like to do.

"That's the goal, that's every day for us. [It's] in the back of my mind," shooting guard Bradley Beal said.

"I watch the games, I watch the standings and everything. We're not talking about it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "If that comes into play [we'll see]. The seventh and eighth seeds, the records aren't great."

There is certainly a case for that. The two teams currently occupying the bottom two playoff spots in the East have sub-.500 records. The seventh-ranked Magic are 20-23 and the Brooklyn Nets are in eighth with an 18-24 mark.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets held up the Eastern Conference playoff bracket with a losing record as the eighth seed. They went 39-43, not good but still a much better pace than the Wizards are currently on. To win 39 games, they would have to go 25-16 the rest of the way.

Though they have shown some positive signs, going 4-4 in their last eight games, that would require going to a completely different level in the second half of the season. Still, there is no harm in maintaining their goals.

Beal, for one, has envisioned a way it can happen.

"Especially once All-Star hits, that second half is just flying. We have to tighten up and try to get some wins here before the break because that's usually the time when teams like to ease off the pedal a little bit. We have to take advantage of [that], that advantage of our schedule, take care of our bodies, and rally together," he said.

If the Wizards really, really wanted to go for the playoffs, they could try to add some pieces before the Feb. 6 trade deadline. But that should not be expected. In fact, this year's deadline for the Wizards likely won't be affected much at all by the playoff picture.

It's hard to envision them being buyers and they may not be able to be true sellers, either, due to injuries and other factors. Also, there is a belief in the front office that keeping a close distance in the playoff race could be a nice incentive for their young players, that having something to work for later in the season could help their development.

If the Wizards did somehow make the playoffs or even get close, that would be quite the surprise and it would say a lot about the direction of the organization. But in the long-term, it would seem to be more beneficial if they continue on their current course and end up with a top draft pick.

The Wizards right now have the fifth-worst record in the league. That would net them a lot of ping-pong balls for the draft lottery.

It seems likely that's where this season will end. But it doesn't hurt to try.

"We just want to play. We just want to finish the second half of the season playing better," Brooks said.

The Wizards are only 4 1/2 games back in the playoff race. Stranger things have happened.

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Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Yu Darvish lauds Rui Hachimura for 'exceptional' accomplish playing in the NBA

Rui Hachimura has attracted the best athletes Japan has to offer in his rookie season in the NBA. 

From Shohei Ohtani to Naomi Osaka, Hachimura has impressed both on and off the floor, including Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish. He stopped by to see Hachimura's Wizards beat the Pistons Monday. 

"That's right," Darvish said to the Wizards' Japanese website. "We are going to dinner after the game so I stopped by."

Darvish and Hachimura are represented by the same agency and are two of the biggest Japanese stars in American sports. Darvish has had two down years with the Cubs in 2018 and 2019, but he's still considered one of the best pitchers to ever come out of Japan. 

Hachimura, while sidelined with a groin injury, flashed plenty of potential as a rookie for the Wizards. Before going down, he was averaging 13.9 points and 5.8 rebounds while shooting 48.2 percent. 

Darvish admitted he didn't know much about basketball, not even what stats are good to use. But he only cares that Hachimura is having fun. 

Selected with the ninth pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Hachimura became the first Japanese born player to be drafted in the top-10. Japan has produced a number of great baseball players but hasn't been able to produce as many hoopers. 

"You don't have to be tall or big to play baseball," Darvish said. "But when it comes to basketball, you have to be tall and athletic and contribute to the team on a nightly basis. I think what he's accomplishing is more exceptional."

Scott Brooks isn't sure if Hachimura will return before the beginning of February and the team has yet to provide a timetable beyond that. Hopefully, we'll see him back on the floor soon because an entire country outside of the US is watching and can't get enough. 

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