Mired in their first losing streak of the season, the Chicago Bulls aim to get on track Wednesday night with a chance at a rare string of three straight victories in Houston over the Rockets.
The Bulls sport a 5-5 record, but have lost two in a row for the first time this season. They opened a five-game road trip with an overtime win at the Phoenix Suns, but have since dropped back-to-back decisions to the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers.
One night after a 21-point setback to Los Angeles, Chicago was bested 102-94 in Portland on Sunday. Joakim Noah did his best to shoulder the load with 16 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, while Nate Robinson had 18 points off the bench and hit 3-of-6 from 3-point range.
The duo helped the Bulls pull even on the scoreboard despite trailing by 15 in the third quarter, but Portland was able to outlast Chicago.
"As a unit, we just have to play better defensively," said Noah. "We know what we need to do. We just have to be more aggressive defensively."
Richard Hamilton had 15 points and Luol Deng added 14 with seven rebounds and four assists for the Bulls, who wrap their road trip on Saturday versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
First, Chicago aims to get on track after having a five-game winning streak over Houston snapped with a 99-93 setback at home to the club in the lone meeting of the 2011-12 season.
The Bulls, though, have won two in a row at Houston and seek their first three-game winning streak in the city since taking five in a row over a span during the 1971-72 season through the 1973-74 campaign. Those marked the first three seasons for the Rockets in Houston after relocating from San Diego.
The Rockets went winless on a three-game road trip, losing games on consecutive nights to the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz. Houston failed to salvage a game on the swing with Monday's 102-91 defeat to Utah.
Houston's James Harden had six points, three assists and two rebounds before leaving in the second quarter with upper respiratory distress.
"We weren't sure whether or not James was going to be able to go but he wanted to try and I was going to at least allow him to try," said interim Rockets coach Kelvin Sampson. "In the second, he had a temperature, so we just gave him medicine and shut him down to make sure he's ready to go Wednesday."
Patrick Patterson scored 19 points and Chandler Parson had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds for Houston, which fell to 2-4 under Sampson as he continues to fill in for Kevin McHale during the head coach's leave of absence to attend to a personal family matter.
"It's our third game of this road trip and you always worry about your energy level on the third game of a road trip," noted Sampson. "Utah in this gym, they're pretty good here. They're tough, physical and they bring it to you."
Sampson's club will now play three straight and five of its next six at home.