This two-day trip to Houston and Oklahoma City seemed to provide little chance of success for the struggling Bulls.
The opener went about as poorly as expected. The Bulls had a few good runs but struggled on both ends of the court during a 109-94 loss to the Rockets on Wednesday at the Toyota Center.
If there was a bright spot for the Bulls, it was the play of Jimmy Butler, who scored a team-high 20 points in his hometown.
This was Butler's fourth game back from a turf-toe injury, and he hit just 1 of 11 shots in Monday's loss to Orlando. Luol Deng added 18 points, while Carlos Boozer scored 17.
As expected, D.J. Augustin got his first start since joining the Bulls. Kirk Hinrich missed his third straight game with a sore back.
This was Augustin's fifth day with the Bulls, and it showed. He managed to collect 9 assists, but too often the Bulls were practically bumping into each other on offense. While that's not necessarily Augustin's fault, the Bulls have had problems adjusting to the ever-changing lineups.
At the morning shootaround, Hinrich talked about his back injury.
"The whole second half of the Milwaukee game it was really bothering me," he said, according to espn.com. "I've been getting extra work trying to stay on top of it. But after the game, my back really locking up, spasming up, and I've just been working on trying to get it right since."
The Bulls stayed close for most of the first half, then hit a cold spell late in the second quarter and a 3-point deficit quickly grew to 9.
Just before halftime, with the Bulls within 8, Joakim Noah missed 2 free throws with 3 seconds left, then Chicago native Patrick Beverley drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving Houston a 57-46 edge at halftime. Referees initially waved off the shot, but replays showed it left Beverly's hand with a tenth of a second on the clock.
The third quarter was a roller coaster. The Bulls trailed by 14 points, then pulled within 68-65 on Deng's layup with 5:24 left in the third.
But the Bulls could score just 1 more point in the quarter, going 0-for-5 from the field with 5 turnovers. Houston's 15-1 run boosted the lead to 17 at the end of three. The Rockets shot 54 percent for the game, with Dwight Howard scoring 23 points.
Former Bulls center Omer Asik did not play for Houston amid rumors he's about to be traded, possibly to Boston. The Rockets signed Asik away from the Bulls as a restricted free agent in 2012, then pushed him to the bench this season in favor of Howard.
Speaking of Howard, he shared some thoughts about Derrick Rose's latest injury before the game. Rose and Howard became friends during various Adidas events, but Howard also injured Rose twice with hard fouls.
"He didn't rush (his return) last year, and he shouldn't rush now," Howard said, according to espn.com. "They're going to put a lot of pressure on him to play, and just because you see somebody out there working and jumping and running, that doesn't mean that they're game-ready.
"It's a big difference, so hopefully he takes his time and he comes back when he's ready to play."