Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

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Bulls drop third straight in loss to Houston

HOUSTONMaybe in a few months, if and when the Bulls (5-6) cement their previous status as one of the Easts upper-echelon teams, Wednesday nights 93-89 loss to the Rockets (5-7) will be something to laugh about. But now, as losers of three consecutive games for the first time in the Tom Thibodeau era, nothing seems like a laughing matter.
The defensive tone Thibodeau had basically been pleading for the duration of the Circus Tripand the entirety of the young seasonwas evident in the early going, as there was less emphasis on pushing the tempo and more focus on getting stops. Kirk Hinrich came out aggressively on offense, knocking down his first two shots from the field, but the Bulls played balanced basketball, with each of the five starters getting on the board.
For Houston, starting wings James Harden (28 points) and Chandler Parsons (18 points, 13 rebounds) were the focus of the hosts attack, but power forward Patrick Patterson (20 points, eight rebounds) was also effective from the outset and gave them an inside scoring presence. At the conclusion of the opening period, the Bulls held a 22-20 edge.
It appeared the visitors would continue their recent trend of second-quarter lulls to begin the frame, as they struggled on offense initially and both Harden and Patterson made major impacts, along with rugged young big man Greg Smith. However, Luol Deng (19 points, 10 rebounds) began to assert himself as a scorer, as did Joakim Noah (11 points, seven rebounds).
Thibodeau made a slight change in his rotation, playing second-year swingman Jimmy Butler (eight points) earlier than usualfirst alongside Deng, at shooting guard, then at small forward, when the at least temporarily demoted Marco Belinelli entered the contestand it seemed to pay off, as the Bulls regained the lead from Houston, with reserves Nate Robinson (21 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Taj Gibson (nine points, six rebounds) also providing a lift. Still, the Rockets stayed in close contact behind the play of Harden, and at the intermission, the Bulls maintained a narrow, 46-42 lead.
Another ongoing issue for the Bulls, slippage at the beginning of the third quarter, briefly reared its ugly head immediately after the break, as the Rockets surged out of the gates with a 9-2 run. While the guests eventually regained their composure, the contest became a close-knit affair, with Harden, Patterson and Parsons continuing to do damage and the Rockets capitalizing off yet another Bulls issue this season, turnovers.
Houston built a slim cushion as the third period waned on, as miscues by the visitors piled up and the Bulls struggled to find an offensive rhythm. Deng remained their primary source of scoring, but received ample assistance from Carlos Boozer (13 points, 15 rebounds), who play inspired basketball as a scorer and rebounder to close out the quarter, though the Bulls still trailed, 66-65, heading into the final stanza.
It remained a back-and-forth contest in the fourth quarter and while the familiar trio of Harden, Patterson and Parsons were still the catalysts for Houston, Robinson became the Bulls top option. The diminutive scorer delivered time again, either with fearless drives and finishes at the rim, seemingly ill-advised deep jumpers or clever floaters over the tall trees.
When it counted, the visitors made huge hustle plays, particularly on defense, but a series of controversial whistlesfirst, an out-of-bounds call awarded to the Bulls was overturned, then a block-charge call went the Rockets wayand some clutch baskets by Houston, as well as untimely Bulls miscues, gave the hosts both the lead and momentum. Harden and reserve point guard Toney Douglas (11 points) salted things away at the charity stripe for the hosts, and while the Bulls, as always, fought until the bitter end, the night ended with Thibodeaus squad marking an unwanted first.

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks battle Bruins tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Boston Bruins tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Scott Darling gets the nod.

Joel Quenneville is giving a struggling Corey Crawford a breather tonight, electing to go with Darling in the final game of the father's road trip. Darling is 11-4-2 with a 2.34 goals against average, .924 save percentage and one shutout in 20 games this season. His numbers aren't as great on the road, where he is 4-2-1 with a 2.83 GAA and .901 save percentage compared to a 7-2-1 record with a 1.98 GAA and .928 save percentage at home, but he fared well against Boston last season. The Lemont native stopped 42 of 46 shots, good for a .913 save percentage, in a 6-4 win at the United Center last April.

2. The Panarin-Anisimov-Kane line.

The Blackhawks' trio of Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin had a rare zero points in Tuesday's 6-4 win over Colorado, but don't expect to see that again. In fact, it could be the opposite. In their last meeting against the Bruins, a 6-4 win on April 3 during the 2015-16 season, they combined for 11 points (five goals, six assists), highlighted by a Kane hat trick that put him at 100 points on the season for the first time in his career. 

3. How the rookies build off a monsterous game.

In arguably the most well-rounded victory of the season Tuesday in Colorado, the Blackhawks had three rookies that had multi-point efforts. Vinnie Hinostroza had two goals, including the game winner. Tanner Kero had two goals and one assist, while Nick Schmaltz also had a goal and an assist. It was the top-six that was doing the heavy lifting earlier in the season, now the bottom-six is slowly starting to contribute on a consistent basis. The Blackhawks will be in great shape if they can confidently roll four lines that have the potential to find the back of the net on any given shift.

4. Patrice Bergeron vs. Jonathan Toews.

Two of the best two-way centers in the league will go head-to-head, and it's always a fun matchup to watch. Bergeron leads the league with 597 faceoff wins, and is ranked fifth with a 58.4 percentage at the dot while Toews ranks eighth in wins with 473 — despite missing nine games with a back injury — and sits at sixth with a 57.5 percentage. Both of the perennial Selke Trophy candidates have struggled offensively this season, with Bergeron recording only 21 points in 45 games and Toews with 22 points in 38 contests. Bergeron has been heating up as of late, though, scoring three goals and six assists in his last eight games. Bergeron also leads the league in possession numbers, with the Bruins controlling 61.9 percent of the even-strength shot attempts when he's on the ice.

5. Brad Marchand.

In September, Marchand inked an eight-year, $49 million deal and it's already paying dividends for the Bruins. He has 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in his last eight games, and 45 points total, which is by far the most on his team and tied for sixth in the NHL. He's 16 points away from tying his career high of 61 set last season, with a little less than half the year to go. He's also had great success against the Blackhawks. In his last six games against Chicago, dating back to the 2013-14 campaign, he has registered at least a point in all of them, scoring four goals and adding five assists. To make life more difficult, he's a player that enjoys getting under people's skin, so expect him to be a big factor tonight.

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