Rockets hope to lift off against Bulls
HOUSTON — It was as if the Houston Rockets released all of the frustration that accumulated during the four-game skid they carried into San Antonio on Friday, all of the angst that accompanied their poor health and even poorer results that followed their promising five-game winning streak.
The Spurs, struggling through their own early-season malaise, were no match for the Rockets’ fury, with Houston leading by as many as 38 points en route to a 136-105 victory at the AT&T Center.
The win not only snapped their drought, it also enabled the Rockets (10-11) to set a path back to .500 with a triumph on Saturday at Toyota Center against the reeling Chicago Bulls (5-18) in what will mark the Rockets? fifth set of back-to-back games already this season.
The Rockets began their losing streak by dropping back-to-back games last weekend in Detroit and Cleveland due to a sore leg. Paul also was sidelined for subsequent losses against the Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.
He returned to action in San Antonio, produced 14 points, 10 assists, and five rebounds over 28 minutes, and provided a semblance of order that the Rockets lacked with him unavailable.
“Probably just the fact that we had everybody on the court,” Paul said of the recovery. “For us, our record matters ? we want to win games. We just want to be healthy.”
The Rockets, 0-5 without Paul in their lineup, also welcomed back reserve swingman Gerald Green (ankle), who chipped in 11 points and two steals. Reserve center Nene (calf) has yet to play this season but is likely to make his debut against the Bulls, rounding out the rotation.
“Me and G were just talking about it: we’re miserable when we can’t play,” Paul said. “It’s just good that we got out there on the court. We got to play. Guys that have been playing a whole lot of minutes didn’t have to do that.”
With Paul and Green back in the fold, the Rockets were able to lessen the workload on veteran guards James Harden and Eric Gordon, who combined for 49 points while logging 28 and 26 minutes, respectively. Rookie forward Gary Clark, pressed into duty because of the injuries, played 18 minutes, mostly in garbage time. Rookie center Isaiah Hartenstein should experience a steep decline in his minutes once Nene reclaims his role backing up Clint Capela.
The dismantling of the Spurs was reminiscent of quality wins over the Indiana Pacers, Denver Nuggets, and Golden State Warriors. But, given their desperation, style points weren’t needed.
“I don’t care how the wins are right now,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We need a bunch of them.”
The Bulls have dropped five consecutive games and nine of 10 overall. Their latest loss was a 107-88 setback in Detroit on Friday.
Chicago trailed by double-digits most of the way but rookie Wendell Carter Jr. helped them inch closer. He scored 15 of his career-high 28 points in the opening 4:40 of the third quarter.
“I give our guys credit for getting back into the game when our outside shots weren’t falling,” Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg said. “Wendell was terrific. I was proud of the way he went out there and got us back into the game.
Friday was Chicago’s largest margin of defeat in its losing streak and it occurred after a one-point loss to San Antonio Monday and a three-point defeat at Milwaukee on Wednesday.
While their preseason expectations in no way matched what the Rockets faced, the Bulls were desirous of improvement this season. However, like the Rockets, injuries have stalled their development.
Chicago continues to press on without a quartet of contributors expected to anchor the rotation: guards Kris Dunn (knee) and Denzel Valentine (ankle), and forwards Lauri Markkanen (elbow) and Bobby Portis (knee). Valentine will miss the entire season following ankle surgery.
According to Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg, Markkanen practiced with the team on Thursday and participated in the shootaround prior to the loss at Detroit on Friday. Markkanen should return sometime in December.