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Rockets-Bulls Preview

The Associated Press

After tearing apart the NBA's No. 1 scoring defense, the Houston Rockets are looking for a repeat performance against top defensive team.

The Rockets will try to duplicate their fast-paced formula on Christmas Day when they visit the Chicago Bulls, who hope to get back on track following their second-worst loss of the season.

While the Bulls are 7-0 all-time at home on Christmas, they'll first have to find a way to slow down the league's top offense (105.4 per game) after Houston (14-12) ran past Memphis 121-96 on Saturday night for its third straight win.

Although Memphis entered the contest allowing an NBA-low 89.2 points per game, the Rockets scored 20 more points than any other Grizzlies opponent this season. Houston outscored Memphis 33-3 in fast-break points and handed its division rival its most lopsided loss of the season.

"It's easier getting them early than it is going against the defense and trying to get something in the last five seconds of the shot clock,'' coach Kevin McHale said.

Houston has taken advantage of its speed this month, ranking second in fast-break points at 19.8 per game.

However, it might be difficult to keep up that pace against a Bulls team allowing just 12.5 fast break points per game that also owns the NBA's second-best scoring defense (88.3 per game) at home.

James Harden scored 31 points on Saturday as the Rockets improved to 7-1 when he scores at least 30. The league's fourth-ranked scorer (25.6 per game) has averaged 30.0 points on 51.9 percent shooting over his last eight games and converted 91.5 percent (86 of 94) of his free throws in that span.

The Rockets, who have won five of six, are averaging 118.3 points during their three-game winning streak.

"We showed how explosive we can be offensively," said guard Jeremy Lin, who had 15 points and 11 assists against Memphis. "This is just a testament to people moving and passing the ball."

Lin was held to four points on 2-of-9 shooting in the first meeting with Chicago, but Harden had 28 points as Houston overcame a season-high 23 turnovers in a 93-89 home win Nov. 21.

Former Bull Omer Asik, who has 12 double-doubles, makes his first return to Chicago. He had four points and six rebounds last month against the Bulls, well off his season averages of 10.6 and 11.4, respectively.

After an impressive 110-106 victory at New York for their ninth win in 12 games, the Bulls look to bounce back following a 92-75 blowout loss at Atlanta on Saturday night.

Chicago's starters were outscored 72-39 as the team was held to its second-lowest point total of the season. Forward Luol Deng led the Bulls with just 11 points while playing through a sore shoulder.

"Tough loss. The highs and lows of this thing are unbelievable,'' said Joakim Noah, who added 10 points and nine rebounds. "One night you feel great because you won a big game, and then the next night you come out with the wrong mindset and you lose."

The Bulls will have to get their offense in gear against a Houston team that has won 37 consecutive games when holding its opponent below 90 points, the NBA's longest current streak.

Nate Robinson had a team-high 21 points at Houston in November. Deng finished with 19 and 10 rebounds, while Noah contributed 13 and 15, respectively.

The Rockets stopped a three-game losing streak in Chicago with a 99-93 victory there last April.

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