Bulls-Rockets Preview

As desperate as the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls are, any and all wins are welcome no matter how they're earned.

With two weeks left in the regular season and limited opportunities remaining, the Bulls visit the Rockets on Thursday night for a matchup of two teams clawing to remain in the postseason hunt.

Each slowed subpar stretches with tight victories Tuesday night. Houston (37-38) rallied from a 20-point deficit for a 106-100 win at Cleveland, and Chicago (37-37) earned a 98-96 victory at Indiana on Jimmy Butler's winner in the final seconds.

The Rockets won for the second time in three games as they battle Utah and Dallas in a packed race for the Western Conference's final two playoff spots. Houston trailed the LeBron James-less Cavaliers by 13 points entering the fourth quarter, but James Harden poured in 18 of his 27 during a 35-16 advantage in the final 12 minutes.

The Rockets followed a 14-point second quarter by shooting 57.1 percent for 66 points in the second half.

Maybe more impressive was a defensive effort that kept them in the game. Cleveland shot 32.5 percent after halftime and 36.0 for the game, the third lowest all season for a Houston opponent.

''The thing about us is to not get in our own way,'' Patrick Beverley said. ''When we do that, we're fine.''

The Rockets open a tough seven-day stretch that continues with Sunday's home game versus Oklahoma City and closes Wednesday at Dallas. However, they finish the season against four of the West's bottom five teams and play five of the last seven at home.

Meanwhile, the Bulls continued a road-heavy stretch by surviving Tuesday's game against the Pacers. They avoided their fifth straight loss and pulled within two games of Indiana for the East's eighth playoff spot while claiming the tiebreaker.

Five of the Bulls' final eight games are on the road, where they are 13-23 and have lost 11 of 13.

Nikola Mirotic made seven 3-pointers for 28 points in the latest. He scored 11 more than his previous three games combined and grabbed 10 rebounds for his first double-double since Jan. 9.

Butler, Pau Gasol and Derrick Rose - Chicago's top three scorers - combined to shoot 36.8 percent for 32 points, but Butler dribbled down the clock and sank a 10-foot jumper with 3.7 seconds left.

''We needed this win,'' Butler said. ''It was big for us to get a win here on the road against a playoff team. Hopefully this starts a trend for these last eight or nine games.''

It still wasn't pretty. The Pacers outscored the Bulls 52-36 in the paint and 15-5 in fast-break points. Chicago committed 17 turnovers and shot 26.1 percent in the fourth quarter, finishing at 42.5 overall - its fourth straight game below 43.0.

A drought without a 50-percent effort has reached a dozen games. One before that, the Bulls snapped a four-game skid with a 108-100 home win over the Rockets on March 5.

Gasol, Butler and Rose combined to shoot 51.2 percent for 69 points, 31 rebounds and 21 assists to help Chicago to its third win in the last four games of this series. The Rockets, who have won the last three in Houston, were led by Harden's 36 points and eight assists.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.