Rockets’ Harden expected back for game against Bulls

CHICAGO — The Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls have each stumbled out of the gates for different reasons. Yet both teams believe better days are ahead.

After losing five of their first six games, the Rockets will enter Saturday’s game against the Bulls at the United Center fresh off a victory. The Rockets, playing their third straight game without James Harden, used a second-half surge to beat the Brooklyn Nets 119-111 on Friday.

Chris Paul (32 points) paced the Rockets, who snapped a four-game losing streak just in time for Harden’s scheduled return on Saturday after being sidelined with a hamstring injury. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters before Friday’s game that the fact the Rockets have a back-to-back prevented Harden from returning on Friday against the Nets, but that the All-Star is likely to be back on the floor in Chicago.

“He had a good practice (on Thursday),” D’Antoni said. “He feels good. He’s ready to go. If this (game against the Nets) was the only game and he had a couple days after, he’d probably play. But because we don’t have time and it’s a back-to-back, why not do it the second (game)?”

The Rockets returned to the win column against the Nets as center Clint Capela finished with 22 points and 13 rebounds, Carmelo Anthony had 28 points off the bench, and guard Eric Gordon rounded out the balanced scoring attack with 21 points.

Houston rebounded in the second half after trailing by 14 points early. But after the string of four straight losses during which the Rockets’ defense struggled, Houston finally managed to start contesting shots. The turnaround, along with Harden’s impending return from injury, gives D’Antoni hope that good things might be in store for his team.

“I trust this group totally,” D’Antoni said. “All they want to do is win. You know it’s just a matter of time.”

Chicago is in the midst of playing four games in six nights, a stretch that concludes with Saturday’s game against the Rockets.

The Bulls (2-7) have dropped three straight games and four of their last five. Chicago enters Saturday’s game again trying to bounce back from another close loss, a 107-105 setback against the Indiana Pacers on Friday. They are winless in the first three games of their four-game homestand.

After Antonio Blakeney tied Friday’s game at 105 with a free throw with 30.5 seconds left, the Bulls were unable to draw even after Indiana’s Darren Collison hit the go-ahead shot with 18.5 seconds remaining. Chicago had its chances, but missed three shots after Wendell Carter Jr. grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds.

Now, the Bulls will again hope to snap their losing streak on Saturday against the Rockets.

Justin Holiday connected on five 3-point field goals as part of a 19-point effort that ended in disappointment when the Bulls couldn’t hit a shot when they needed it.

“It comes down to one play at the end, but we do some things differently throughout the game and maybe it’s a little easier for us toward the end,” Holiday told reporters after the loss according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Bulls blew an 18-point lead and led by seven in the fourth quarter before the Pacers pushed back.

“I thought we came out of the gate with unbelievable energy,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg told reporters, according to the Chicago Tribune. “You can’t allow this to become a hangover game. This is a resilient group. There are a lot of positives to build on.”