PREVIEW: Bulls at Rockets- March 11

Dec 26, 2022; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) drives to the basket against Houston Rockets forward Tari Eason (17) during the first half at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Bulls at Rockets- March 11

The Rockets will open a six-game homestand when they host the Chicago Bulls on Saturday night. The Rockets are coming off an overtime loss on Thursday night in Indianapolis, but are expected to get Kevin Porter Jr. back in the lineup after he missed Thursday’s game with a left thigh contusion. Saturday’s game is a rematch of Houston’s 133-118 win in Chicago on Dec. 26.

Eye on the Bulls

Record: 20-36 (11th in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 112.5 (24th)

Defensive rating (rank): 111.8 (6th)

The Bulls enter Saturday’s game just one game back of ninth place in the Eastern Conference. Chicago’s offense carried it to a playoff spot last season, but this season it’s been the defense that has it in contention at this point of the season. Even with elite scorers DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls’ offense would be described as anything other than modern. They lead the league in midrange shots per game while taking the fewest 3-pointers and attempting the seventh fewest free throws. The Bulls have missed point guard Lonzo Ball, who has missed the entire season recovering from multiple knee surgeries over the last 14 months and is reportedly considering a third.

Matchup to watch: Kevin Porter Jr. vs. Zach LaVine

The Rockets did a pretty good job on LaVine during the December matchup, holding him to 22 points on 20 shots, but the two-time All-Star has been on a tear since the break, averaging 30.7 points on 59% shooting in seven games. He’s made 52% of his 3’s in that span while attempting more than six free throws per contest. Porter was LaVine’s primary defender that night, and while the Bulls guard made half of his 10 shots when Porter was the closest defender, the Bulls scored less than a point per possession as a team. The Rockets list Porter as probable to play on Saturday after he missed Thursday’s game with a left thigh contusion.

What I’m watching for

Jabari Smith Jr’s rookie season hasn’t been what most expected it to be, but he’s coming off the first 30-point game of his career on Thursday, and over his last four games he’s averaging 17 points on 53% shooting, 47% from behind the 3-point line. He gave out a yell after he hit a 3 in San Antonio last weekend, the game that started this stretch of good play, and he’s played with confidence ever since. Smith is still averaging just 12 points per game this season on 39% shooting, 30% from behind the 3-point line, but he has 16 games left to leave his rookie campaign with a good taste in his mouth, which will give him something to build on this summer.

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