Preview: Houston Rockets @ Chicago Bulls

Someone should call Daryl Morey and let him know that rebuilds are supposed to take years, not months. The latest test of the Rockets’ sizzling offense and growing chemistry will take place on Christmas Day, in the house of Omer Asik’s old team, the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls lead the Central Division (15-11), but a Rockets win on Christmas would tie their record with the 14-12 Rockets.

Tuesday’s matchup against the Bulls is part of a brutal stretch for Houston, with 4 of the next 5 games on the road, and a total of 4 in 5 nights. As this one is on ESPN on Christmas day at 7:00 PM, it would behoove them to prioritize it. A nation of fans full of good cheer and egg nog will be waiting to be wowed by James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the rest of an uptempo young team from Houston.

The surprise blowout against the Grizzlies on Saturday showed that the Rockets have the potential to enforce their style on slower, defensive-minded teams. Coincidentally, that’s exactly what the Bulls are under head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls feature a few similarities beyond pace and defense: Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol are both capable in the post and known for their stifling defense. Carlos Boozer and Zach Randolph both have the ability to sink endless midrange jumpers, and won’t hesitate to shoot. Luol Deng may not have the explosiveness of Rudy Gay, but he’s a very difficult cover on offense, and no slouch on defense. If any two teams can serve as practice for one another, it’s probably these two.

One major difference is that the Bulls don’t like to use their bench, despite it being quite good in recent years. Financial concerns in the past off-season have stripped away much of the “bench mob,” however, including Houston’s own Omer Asik. Especially with superstar point guard Derrick Rose still out, coach Thibodeau relies heavily on his starters, often giving them 40+ minutes of burn. For a time, the Rockets were similarly leaning on the starting five, but the emergence of Greg Smith, Marcus Morris and Toney Douglas has shifted minutes lately, giving Harden and Parsons some minutes relief. That will be important, with a game against the Timberwolves coming the following day.

The Rockets bench has begun to be a point of strength lately, but against an endless onslaught of starters, this may be a weakness against the Bulls. Greg Smith is able to defend well enough against second string centers, but it remains to be seen how well he deals with a Joakim Noah or a Carlos Boozer. Thankfully, the new practice of keeping at least one of Harden or Lin on the court at all times should keep pressure on a somewhat wan point guard position for Chicago.Kirk Hinrich is capable, but he will tend to be overmatched at his position.

The Bulls, unlike the Grizzlies, will be neither fatigued nor on the road on Tuesday, lending another question to the run and swipe formula the Rockets have been using. If they can keep the same level of energy and composure they’ve been exhibiting, the Rockets have a very good chance to grab a precious Christmas win. If the wind falls out of their sails and they get discombobulated, as they’ve been known to on the road, a workmanlike Bulls team will methodically put them away. This game should come down to effort and energy for both teams, and the team that sets the tone is likely to win. Additionally, three point specialists like Marco Bellinelli will need special care from a Rockets team that seems chronically unable to guard the perimeter.

The Rockets have a lot to prove on Christmas day, from proving themselves to their own fans to proving Morey’s seeming idea that losing seasons shouldn’t ever happen, to somehow proving that uptempo teams can be good. Hopefully, they can hit at least one of those and bring the best holiday gift of all to Houston: a delicious W on national TV.

Patrick Patterson remains inactive with a foot bone bruise. Royce White remains inactive as well. Tip off is scheduled for 7:00 pm central time on Tuesday, December 25th, 2012 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois.

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