Two disappointing teams fighting for playoff contention in their respective conferences met tonight on national TV in an important game for their prospective postseason positions, but only one team played like they were actually interested in the playoffs. Here's a hint: it wasn't the Rockets.
The Chicago Bulls handed the Rockets a 108-100 defeat in Chicago that looked like a much worse loss, and would have been if not for a last minute charge by the Rockets that the Bulls ultimately fended off.
The Rockets generally looked like a team playing in November, not one fighting for its playoff life in March, and at the expense of sounding like a broken record, it was once again the same issues that did them in.
They shot poorly from deep, going just 9-35 from long distance one game after going 3-35 against New Orleans. The Rockets have now shot 12-70 from deep over the last two games, or 17.1 percent.
They also failed to make any substantial defensive adjustments. Pau Gasol went off for 28 points (9-18 shooting), 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals and a block, and the Houston front court had neither an answer for his play-making, nor his shot.
Jimmy Butler poured in 24 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists and Derrick Rose pitched in 17 points and 9 assists and generally did whatever he wanted against both Patrick Beverley and Jason Terry.
James Harden did Beard-like things, scoring 36 points on 10-26 shooting and 12-14 from the free throw line, while also contributing 8 assists and 5 rebounds. But doing Beard-like things also means turning the ball over, and Harden coughed it up 9 times against the Bulls.
Also, in a growing theme, Harden got very little help from his teammates. Dwight Howard scored 8 points on 3-9 shooting and did snag 12 rebounds, but save for a brief interlude in the 4th quarter when Howard scored on two consecutive post-ups, he looked as disengaged and as lackadaisical as any point this season. Dwight seemed like he could barely stand being on the court at times.
Other than that, Trevor Ariza pitched in 11 and Corey Brewer 12, including this buzzer-beating three to close out the third quarter and give the Rockets a small glimmer of hope.
But with James Harden on the bench with five fouls to start the fourth quarter, the Bulls ripped off a 9-0 run to take a commanding 92-75 lead they would never relinquish.
The Rockets were in foul trouble all night, with Harden, Donatas Motiejunas, Beverley and Howard all having to take a seat at one point or another racking up violations, with Howard eventually fouling out (along with the Bulls' Butler).
The Rockets again started the game slow, going down 29-23 after the first period, and again struggled with turnovers, giving it away 18 times, though that was mitigated by some sloppy Chicago play as well (they turned it over 25 times).
The power forward cupboard continues to be bare, with Motiejunas and Clint Capela leading the way with 6 points each, and though D-Mo does seem to be getting more comfortable by the game, he's still playing just limited time, his 14 minutes tonight kept down by his 4 personal fouls.
The Rockets fall to 30-32, and the Jazz are nipping at their heals for the final playoff spot in the West. Though with the team playing ball this ugly this late in the season, one could say they don't even deserve a postseason berth. There's a little time left to regain some semblance of an actual team fighting for it's season, but the likelihood of it actually happening wanes with each passing game.