The Bulls continue their five-game circus road trip tonight when they travel to Houston to take on the new-look Rockets on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6:30 with Bulls Pregame Live.
Houston's core is perhaps as different from a year ago as any team in the league, as three newcomers have paced the way for a team that comes into tonight having lost three straight on a recent West coast road trip.
Chicago will match up with a familiar foe, but may not recognize his game when Omer Asik tips off. The 26-year-old center received a 25 million offer sheet from the Rockets this offseason, one the Bulls did not match. The two-year pro averaged a mere 2.9 games in two seasons with the Bulls, acting more as a defensive stopper with the second unit. He scored in double-digits six times in 148 games with the Bulls, but in his expanded role has done so seven times in 11 games with the Rockets. He also has crashed the glass well, ranking third in the NBA with 12.3 rebounds per game.
His career year has been matched by Joakim Noah, who will square off against his former complement in the front court. The fifth-year Noah is averaging career-highs in points (14.8), free throw percentage (80.7 percent), assists (4.0), blocks (2.0) and steals (1.3). It's a sure bet that Noah will want to win tonight's matchup, both to get the Bulls back on track and to knock Asik's confidence down some.
Asik isn't the only Rocket who has succeeded in a bigger role, as James Harden ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring (24.2 points per game). Out of the shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden has exploded in a leading role, as his numbers across the board are as good as they've been in his four-year career. He has cooled down from his red-hot start to the season, when he scored 37 and 45 points to start the season. He'll be on the Bulls' radar, and Jimmy Butler may once again be asked to make Harden work for his shots.
The Rockets' other posion-pill offer sheet was to Jeremy Lin, who signed with Houston after New York declined to match in the offseason. Lin has produced mixed results through 11 games. His numbers are down from his magical season a year ago, but he's still producing as a passer (6.6 assists) and is seventh in the league at 2.0 steals per game. His shooting numbers are way down, and Kirk Hinrich's defense should prove to be a tough task, as Lin has shot better than 40 percent from the field just twice.
The Rockets are 10th in the league in points per game, but just 24th in field goal percentage. They make a living from beyond the arc, hitting 8.7 3-pointers per game. Lin and Harden have contributed, but second-year small forward Chandler Parsons leads the team with 2.3 makes per game. The Bulls rank 8th in defensive 3-point field goal percentage, making this an aspect of tonight's game to keep an eye on. If the Bulls can hold the Rockets from beyond the arc, it will go a long way toward a victory.
Having scored 80 and 94 points their last two games -- both losses -- it's apparent the Bulls' road trip is beginning to take its toll. But the Rockets are allowing more than 100 points per game, 27th in the league, so the Bulls have a chance to get back on track tonight on Comcast SportsNet.