So we've talked about putting bad teams away over the last few games. Houston's new goal is to weather the storm until Dwight Howard can return to the lineup.
The Bulls are a team that has the size to annihilate the Rockets down low. Houston also has size, but Chicago will be physical and more experienced.
The last time these teams met, Houston blew a 6-point lead heading into the fourth quarter and lost 114-105. The Bulls and Rockets were relatively even in most categories. The Bulls outshot Houston from the field but Houston outshot them from distance. The Bulls grabbed 6 more rebounds. So really, it should have been a really close game, and it was.
But wait, there's more!
The Rockets took 17 more shots than the Bulls. Houston had 8 more points on the fast break and scored 18 more points in the paint. In an unusual turn of events, Houston even had one fewer turnover than Chicago.
"So it should have been a Houston blowout, AK" you say, triumphantly. "But Houston blew it, right? Josh Smith must have been terrible! Or McHale must have been outcoached! Or Dwight must have just laughed the whole time and been a cancer to the team like everyone says he is!"
Actually, Josh shot 50 percent from the field. McHale didn't play Dorsey at all, which is almost all he has to do to be considered a good coach, and Dwight went 12/14 and was the second-best starter for Houston. So why did Houston lose?
That was the free throw discrepancy. Yes, really.
Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, and Derrick Rose each shot more free throws than the entire Rockets team. And Houston got a free technical from Tom Thibodeau. The foul discrepancy was 27-13.
Now, I'm a huge proponent of the referees calling fouls, not making the game even. I don't expect games to end with both teams taking the same number of free throws or commit the same number of fouls. It's this "the refs weren't fair" attitude that ruins playoff games and makes fans sound so whiny during the playoffs. But Houston was clearly getting into the paint. It's not like they were just jacking up shots from distance and not getting foul calls.
So the next time you hear some NBA analyst wannabe that say "The Rockets are boring because all they do is shoot free throws" or "James Harden flops his way to wins," you can point to this game.
Schedule breakdown: The Rockets last played on Saturday, so they'll be plenty rested. Finally, a game against a team with less rest than Houston! Oh what's that? Chicago last played on Friday? Screw you, Silver.
Tip off is at 7 p.m. CST on ESPN.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Derrick Rose
The bulldog Patrick Beverley that we know and love has been nonexistent lately. Opposing point guards have been playing well against Houston in recent games. Part of that is opponents are trying to run more often against Houston. It's been successful so expect that to continue until Houston starts getting back in transition.
But part of the issue has been Beverley himself. He just doesn't look right, and the All-Star break cannot come soon enough for Mr. 94 Feet.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Jimmy Butler
Butler scored 22 points in the first game.
Harden scored 20.
Looks like ESPN was right about Harden being a piece of garbage.
In reality, Harden didn't have a good game against Butler last time. He shot 9-22 and you could absolutely say that Butler outplayed him. The Bulls made his life difficult and the refs took away his ability to score from the line.
The Bulls are one of the teams that gets to be a little more handsy than others because of their defensive reputation. I'm sure Bulls and Grizzlies fans don't like hearing that, but every time I watch them play, I see them get the benefit of the doubt more often than not. Great defensive players don't commit fouls, the logic goes. And the Bulls are filled with great defensive players. So they must never commit fouls.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Tony Snell
Snell didn't play the last time these teams met, but he's their starter at the 3 now. He's the perimeter defender that helps Chicago take pressure off of Butler and Rose, much in the way that Ariza takes pressure off of Harden. Yes, I know Butler is a good defender, but having that extra option on defense allows the Bulls to be more versatile on offense with Butler.
Power Forward: Donatas Motiejunas vs. Pau Gasol
D-Mo hammered the Bulls last time. His 16 points on 8-14 included post moves that embarrassed Bulls defenders.
Pau destroyed the Rockets last time. His 27/14 carved Houston to pieces. He missed 6 shots, but he grabbed 5 offensive rebounds, usually on his own misses.
Long story short: don't expect stretch 4s to stop dominating Houston anytime soon.
Center: Joey Dorsey vs. Joakim Noah
The Rockets will be at a major disadvantage down low tonight, as they will be until Dwight Howard returns to the lineup. We can complain about his offense all we want, but its his defense and rebounding prowess that separates him from your average centers.
I'm sure Noah will yell tonight. He does that a lot. He also blocked 6 shots the last time these teams played.
Rockets: Propeller Plane, Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, Terrence Jones, Kostas Papanikolaou
Bulls: Aaron Brooks, Taj Gibson, Nikola Mirotic, Kirk Hinrich, E'Twaun Moore
Prediction: Massive win for Rockets (h/t H&Hguy), ignoring evidence pointing to more realistic scenarios
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