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Rockets roll to a 101-90 win over the Bulls

Led by a team-high 27 points from James Harden, the Houston Rockets defeated the Chicago Bulls without center Dwight Howard.

Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Besides a couple of Chicago runs down the stretch that made me a tiny bit nervous, the Rockets got out to an early 16 point lead and never looked back en route to a blowout win over the Chicago Bulls. It was truly a team effort for the Rockets in the Toyota Center as they got key contributions from Josh Smith, Trevor Ariza, Donatas Motiejunas, and Corey Brewer along with James Harden.

On paper, the Rockets seemed to be poorly mismatched in the front court without Dwight Howard. Chicago's three-headed monster of Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Taj Gibson did combine for 41 rebounds, but the Rockets didn't have any trouble scoring on them. The Bulls' rim protection was nowhere to be found as the Rockets outscored the Bulls 50-28 in the paint.

Ramping up the defensive intensity was clearly a point of emphasis for the Rockets tonight and it proved to be a solid game plan. Derrick Rose and the Bulls were forced to take a lot of low-percentage jump shots while the Rockets packed the paint with help defenders. Chicago shot just 35 percent from the field and 32 percent from behind the arc.

However, there were still some defensive lapses from Houston in this game. Lackluster transition D in the first quarter led to a 12-0 Bulls run including this slam from Derrick Rose. McHale made a nice adjustment later in the game because 7 of the Bulls' 9 fast break points came in the first half.

Harden scored 13 straight points for the Rockets in the second quarter. He dropped 22 first half points on 13 shots in a dominant offensive performance. When Harden's jumper is falling, it is virtually impossible to guard him. He put Jimmy Butler, one of the NBA's best perimeter defenders, on skates with step back jumpers and hesitation dribble-drives.

Josh Smith also made a big impact in the first half in all facets of the game. He crashed the boards, found shooters from the post, and drove to the basket with aggression. That's everything you could ask for from Josh Smith who finished with 9 points and team-high 13 rebounds.

The third quarter was a different story for Harden and the Rockets. The Beard was held scoreless in the third but Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas picked up the slack. D-Mo and Bev combined for 14 in the third but the Bulls cut the lead down to 5 with a 14-4 run to close the period.

Houston responded to the Chicago run with one of their own, a masterful 13-0 spurt to start the fourth quarter. That run by the reserves was led by Brewer, Smith and Ariza. They forced turnovers which led to several easy buckets on the break, including this amazing play.

The Rockets closed the game out rather easily once Harden checked back in after a miniature run by the Bulls' starters against the second team. With the victory, the Rockets improve to 12-5 without Dwight Howard in the lineup.

Other Game Notes:

  • Ariza played an excellent game. He scored 20 points on 7-10 shooting.
  • Rockets outscored the Bulls 20-9 in transition.
  • Terrence Jones played 14 minutes as he's still easing his way back into things. He ran the floor well but his shot was off. He had one really nice up-and-under move that got him an easy layup.
  • Patrick Beverley frustrated D-Rose. Forget Rose's numbers in this game, Beverley defended him well.
  • Just four bench players checked in to the game. They scored a combined 27 points which bested the Bulls' 20.
  • Joey Dorsey was doing Joey Dorsey things.