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Bulls ‘completely outplayed from start’ in blowout loss to Rockets

HoustRockets' James Harden center battles Chicago Bulls' Kirk Hinrich right Jimmy Butler left for loose ball during first quarter an

Houston Rockets' James Harden, center, battles Chicago Bulls' Kirk Hinrich, right, and Jimmy Butler, left, for a loose ball during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Tuesday, Dec. 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)

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Updated: December 26, 2012 12:14AM



The Bulls were booed at home on Christmas.

It was that kind of night.

After center Joakim Noah took the microphone before tipoff to wish Bulls fans ‘‘Happy holidays and merry Christmas,’’ the Houston Rockets and guard James Harden cold-cocked the Bulls with a relentless aggressiveness that had them on tilt all night.

Attacking the basket at every opportunity, the Rockets got the bounces, the breaks, the easy put-backs and dunks, the calls and the free throws. They deserved every bit of it in a 120-97 victory before a sellout crowd of 22,310 at the United Center.

‘‘Completely outplayed, right from the start,’’ said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team has lost by 17 and 23 in its last two games. ‘‘My job is to have them ready, and obviously they weren’t ready. That part’s on me.’’

The Bulls (15-12) and Rockets (15-12) are finding their way with new personnel. The difference Tuesday was that Harden didn’t take the holiday off. His attacking style set a tone that the Bulls never even attempted to match until it was too late. The Rockets led 20-10 in the first quarter, 55-34 in the second and 86-51 with 4:58 left in the third quarter.

‘‘Our defense wasn’t really good today. Everything was bad. Terrible Christmas,’’ Noah said. ‘‘We didn’t play with the right edge. Just a real disappointing loss.’’

Harden led the Rockets with 26 points and shot 11-for-13 from the line. Jeremy Lin added 20 points on 8-for-12 shooting with 11 assists. Former Bull Omer Asik had 20 points on 9-for-13 shooting and 18 rebounds.

The Rockets shot 56.1 percent (46-for-82) and outrebounded the Bulls 45-31.

‘‘If you don’t play with an edge ... that’s a heck of an offensive team,’’ said Thibodeau, whose team lost back-to-back games by double digits for the first time since Dec. 1 and 3, 2010.

‘‘They scored the ball easily — in transition, the paint, open shots. We didn’t get back. When you do that, you’re not going to be successful. We can’t pick and choose when we come to play.’’

Not until the Bulls were down by 35 did they resist. Nate Robinson — scoreless in eight first-half minutes — scored 21 of his 26 points in a 10:54 span as the Bulls cut the Rockets’ lead to 100-85 with eight minutes left. But 16 seconds later, Lin drove the lane, scored easily and that was that.

The Bulls’ starters were overmatched. Luol Deng, who suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter, scored 14 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Noah (eight points on 3-for-3 shooting, nine rebounds), Carlos Boozer (six points on 3-for-11 shooting) and Kirk Hinrich (four points on 2-for-8 shooting) were overwhelmed by the Rockets’ onslaught.

‘‘The whole time they were in attack mode,’’ Robinson said. ‘‘It was like [they were] coming downhill and we didn’t have any breaks. We didn’t build our wall to stop them.

“The whole game we were just looking at them going fast, fast. And it was like, ‘Wow.’ We’d stop them one time and go down and score, and they’d score right after a make. It’s all on us. We’ve got to do better [Wednesday night against the Pacers]. And we will.’’



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