Circus Trip: Bulls-Rockets Preview

Yes. I went there.

This game could indeed be a trap.

On paper, the Bulls appear the better team. They’ve won three in a row and lead the Central Division at 5-3. After an up-and-down start, Chicago has steadily improved and currently rank 5th in PPG (105.0), 8th in Pace (96.1), 7th in Defensive Rating (103.2), 12th in Offensive Rating (107.9) and 13th in Opponents PPG (100.4).

The Rockets are 3-6 and 5th in the Southwest Division. They rank 23rd in Defensive Rating (108.2) and 29th in Opponents PPG (107.7).

The flip side? They run the court and score points. Houston is 3rd in Pace (98.4), 4th in PPG (107.7), and 10th in Offensive Rating (108.2). After opening the season 0-6, they’ve scored 100 or more points in four of their last five games — including 120 or more twice — and won three of the five.

Of course, those wins came against the Timberwolves (3-9), Pacers (4-4) and Knicks (3-7). And the Rockets will be without the services of Yao Ming (sprained left ankle), Aaron Brooks (ditto) and Chase Buddinger (ditto again). Brooks and Ming are the team’s third an fourth leading scorers, respectively, and Brooks leads the team in assists.

In theory, those absences should more than balance out the loss of Kyle Korver, who could miss the game with a sore right knee. After all, they’ve got the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week in Derrick Rose.

Said Rose: “[Losing Korver] would hurt a lot, He’s a good player. He brings a lot of energy and a lot of scoring when he comes in the game. We need him, but we can’t use that as an excuse. We still have to go out there and play the game.”

Still, history seems to be against the Bulls. They haven’t won a road game yet this season — dropping games in Oklahoma City and Boston — and they are 10-61 on the circus trip since Michael Jordan retired in 1998. Last year, they went 1-5 on the trip.

And the Rockets are used to playing without key players.

The Bulls have to be careful. That starts with valuing the basketball…something Chicago hasn’t excelled at this season. The Bulls rank 22nd in Turnover Percentage and have had a tendency to give the ball away too often this season. With a running team like Houston, that could be deadly. Fortunately, the Rockets rank 30th in Opponents Turnover Percentage, so they don’t force a lot of miscues.

The Bulls must also avoid committing fouls, which was a problem in the early going. It could be a problem tonight, as the Rockets rank 4th in Free Thows Per Field Goal Attempt. Kevin Martin — Houston’s leading scorer at 24.1 PPG — averages 9.1 free throw attempts.

Look, this game is extremely important. At best, it’s probably the second most winnable game not only of the cirus trip but of the next nine games. In case you didn’t know it, the trip — during which the Bulls face the Rockets, Spurs (8-1 and second night of back-to-backs), Mavericks (7-2), Lakers (8-2), Suns (6-4 and second night of back-to-backs), Nuggets (5-5) and Kings (3-6 second night of back-to-backs) — is followed by a home game against the Magic (7-3) and another roadie in Boston (8-2).

That’s an absolutely brutal nine-game stretch. I’m not trying to be a doubter. But — especially if Korver misses extended time with his knee injury — I could see the Bulls going 3-6 or even 2-7 during this stretch. Going from 5-3 to (in theory) 7-10 would be a real blow.

Which, again, emphasizes the importance of tonight’s game. The Bulls always need to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat. But doing so this time is absolutely critical.

8 Responses to Circus Trip: Bulls-Rockets Preview

    luvabullnj November 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm #

    Oh no you didn’t! I hope none of the Bulls read this column lest they might lose focus on tonight’s game. Let’s try an take this trip one game at a time. Bulls are getting significantly improved play from Rose, Noah, Deng, and Taj. And Bogans and Asik have been a mild surprise. We have a chance to win on any given night. The difference I think will be bench play. Besides show some optimism. Boozer will start playing before this trip is over.
    Note: I’m taking the positive approach with Boozer since the reverse psychology did not work on him. (I called him injury prone after the Bulls signed him, and he promptly went out and broke his hand.

  2. Super Joe November 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm #

    I think the Bulls will go 9-0 during this stretch, beating Boston 138-79 in the last game. Rose goes 18-22 scores 44 has 12 assists and 8 rebounds.

    Gorditadog November 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    Bulls have had trouble recently against zone defenses. Wizards and Warriors both played zone in stretches, taking away Rose’s penetration game and forcing outside shots. Tibs countered against Washington by bringing in Korver alongside Deng, and we got three straight open threes.

    If Korver can’t play, expect to see a lot of zone against the Bulls tonight. Without Kyle, we have nobody on the bench who can shoot- except C.J.

    Watson played some at the two alongside Rose last game, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get some minutes there tonight, especially if Bogans is not hitting the three.

    Chuck November 16, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Houston is very beatable but they are not to be underestimated. They have had a brutal early schedule and have some talent. The biggest edge the Bulls have is that they are much bigger and more athletic inside than the Rockets. Scola is a very skilled player but he is not exactly a premier athlete. The rest of the Rocket big men are undersized.
    The usual conditions for winning apply here: rebound, limit turnovers and conrol the paint and you should win. It is not rocket science.

    Tony C. November 16, 2010 at 5:34 pm #

    Gorditadog’s concern is an important one. The Bulls have been notably ineffective against zones from pre-season on, and obviously losing Korver will make things more difficult.

    Having said that, there was a very interesting glimmer of hope in the Bulls most recent game. When the Wizards went into their zone, the improving Ronnie Brewer did some cutting beneath the basket, and the Bulls capitalized at least once or twice (he came from out of bounds once). Brewer is the perfect player to exploit that area against a zone: he is fairly quick, he can jump, and is tall and long enough to score amongst (mostly) slower big men. If Thibs can develop some plays (even without Korver) that allow Brewer to get some space along the baseline, that could help to force a collapse (of sorts) which will in turn lead to some open jumpers.

    Adrian November 17, 2010 at 12:40 am #

    Defense is key the bulls D has been absolutely suffocating the past 3 games, if they continue blocking shots and forcing turn overs like they have been this road trip will become a lot easier. All they have to do is continue to share the ball on offense by making the extra pass and not taking bad contested shots like (especially long twos). If they do these things they will be teams with mediocre defenses.

    The only thing I am worried about is when they play good D, such as the celtics. When they bulls are forced to go late in the shot clock they tend to panic, over pass, or the opposite and over dribble, they need to find rhythm early in the shot clock and work the ball around. To avoid late shot clock situations the bulls should push the ball up the court try and catch good defenses before they get set. If the bulls get running they are hard for anyone to beat.

    Hope they kick ass on “a bunch of road games” -loul deng formerly known as the circus trip

    Adrian November 17, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    P.S. any one notice that D-Roses Jumper form has gotten all out of wack, I think its because he’s tried to expand to the three point range way to quickly, and has lost his touch from 20 ft. Also he has shown a lack of his nifty post moves this season, no baby hooks, no runners, or teardrops, what’s the deal?

    Andre November 17, 2010 at 1:13 am #

    I totally agree adrian. Rose has been kinda off from that range then from when he was dynamite last year. Maybe rose should try using his old form when shooting 2s and the new one shooting threes i do it but then again im not an nba player. Just a suggestion.

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