Rockets-Bulls Preview

The Chicago Bulls have been beaten handily by their last three

Western Conference opponents, but could be facing the right one to

end that slide.

The Bulls will be without Derrick Rose once again on Monday

night when they try to defeat the visiting Houston Rockets for the

sixth straight time.

Chicago (42-12) has lost by double digits to its last three foes

from the West, including Sunday’s 92-78 road defeat to

conference-leading Oklahoma City. The Bulls shot a season-low 33.0

percent.

“They really just kicked our (butt),” said center Joakim Noah,

who went 1 for 8 and finished with five points and six rebounds.

“That really hasn’t happened to us in a long time so for us to lose

like that is bad, we’ve gotta bounce back.”

Rose missed his 10th straight game due to an injured groin that

is preventing him from running. Coach Tom Thibodeau did not blame

the loss on the absence of the reigning league MVP.

“Derrick’s a great player. Obviously, we prefer to have him,”

Thibodeau said. “But we have more than enough. I was more concerned

(Sunday) with the mental aspect. I thought we made a lot of mental

mistakes.”

Richard Hamilton, the other half of Chicago’s starting

backcourt, missed his 14th straight game because of a right

shoulder contusion but could return Monday.

“I feel good about Rip because Rip’s been practicing. He’s made

very good progress,” Thibodeau said. “He has no problems with his

lower body. He’s doing a lot of shooting. The thing is the contact

part of it. I just want to make sure from that aspect. But all the

lower body injuries he’s had, he’s completely healthy.”

The Bulls have won the last five meetings against the Rockets

(28-25), including a pair of three-point victories last season in

which Rose averaged 31.5 points and 9.0 assists while shooting 54.2

percent.

Luis Scola scored 27 points for Houston in each defeat, making

20 of 35 shots over the two games.

While the Bulls are battling the Thunder for the league’s best

record, the Rockets are merely trying to reach the playoffs. They

hold a one-game lead over Utah for the West’s eighth and final

playoff spot after falling 104-102 in overtime at home to Indiana

on Sunday.

Houston blew a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter, then

got outrebounded 9-0 in the extra session.

“I think they outhustled us, especially in the start of that

overtime,” Rockets center Marcus Camby said. “They got like three

or four possessions before they finally got the bucket. We had

opportunities to win, we just didn’t do a good job of closing out

this game.”

All five Houston starters reached double figures, led by Goran

Dragic’s 22 points. Dragic is averaging 20.4 points over his last

five games, with three of those contests needing overtime.

Dragic continues to start in place of Kyle Lowry, who has missed

the last 13 games because of a bacterial infection. Fellow starting

guard Kevin Martin has been out 11 straight with a sprained right

shoulder.

Chicago fell to 11-5 against the West after Sunday’s loss, while

Houston dropped to 10-6 against the East.