PREVIEW: Rockets at Bulls- Dec. 26

Dec 18, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) dribbles against the Minnesota Timberwolves during the third quarter at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Rockets at Bulls- Dec. 26

After losing the final five games of their season-long seven-game homestand, the Rocket hit the road for the next three, starting with the first game of a back-to-back on Monday in Chicago. While the Rockets are looking to avoid a sixth straight loss, the Bulls are trying to win their fourth in a row, after closing out a four-game road trip with wins over Miami, Atlanta and New York.

Eye on the Bulls

Record: 14-18 (11th in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 111.4 (21st)

Defensive rating (rank): 112.7 (17th)

A three-game winning streak has helped blunt a disappointing first half of the season for the Bulls. Their offense has fallen off a cliff since last year’s 38-21 start; they’ve gone from top-five before last year’s All-Star break to out of the top 20 through 32 games this season. Chicago shoots close 37% from behind the 3-point line, which is 11th best in the league, but no team takes fewer attempts from long distance. You better do damage from the free throw line if you aren’t from long distance, but Chicago is 22nd in free throw attempts per game, and the Bulls lead the league in midrange shots per contest. Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic have seen their scoring drop to their lowest points per game averages since the 2017-18 season.

Matchup to watch: Alperen Sengun vs Nikola Vucevic

Rockets head coach Stephen Silas talked about wanting to get Sengun more post-up touches last week, and he’s made good on that over the previous two games. Sengun had five post-ups on Friday night against Dallas and four on Wednesday against Orlando. That’s the most he’s had in a two-game stretch since the beginning of November, and a matchup against Vucevic is a great opportunity for more. Opponents are scoring 1.174 points per post-up possession when defended by the 32-year-old, and of the 131 players who have defended at least 10 post-ups this season, only 23 have allowed more points than Vucevic, per Synergy Sports. On the other end, only six players have defended more post-ups this season, and Sengun has been an above-average defender on those plays.

What I’m watching for

Only the Warriors have been worse away from home this season than the Rockets this season. They enter this trip 3-13 on the road with a -9.3 point differential, so can they look like a functional basketball team when they aren’t inside Toyota Center? The Rockets’ road wins this season have come against the Magic, the Mavs, who played without Luka Doncic, and the Suns, which was a great win, but they overcame a big second-half deficit to steal that game. It would be nice to see them put 48 minutes together, and their last road game was a no-show effort in San Antonio.

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