Bulls get blasted by Rockets' third-quarter run

After the Bulls got blistered by the Houston Rockets on Friday, there were plenty of questions about the size of the playing rotation.

Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg used 12 different players by the two-minute mark of the second quarter.

But that's not why they lost.

Even with a wide variety of players hitting the court, the Bulls led by 13 in the first quarter and were still up by 2 with three minutes left before halftime.

This turned out to be an extreme example of the Bulls' recent trend of a fast start, then second-half fade. There's never been a drop-off quite like this, as the Rockets used a 33-2 run spanning most of the third quarter and some of the second to secure a 115-94 victory at the United Center.

The Bulls (31-34) went from being up by 13 to down by 31 in a span of two quarters. They've lost four in a row and dropped out of playoff position for the first time in several weeks. Milwaukee moved into eighth place in the East, while the Bulls are now tied with Miami for ninth.

“This is the hand we all are dealt and we've got to figure out a way to play it,” Dwyane Wade said in the locker room. “It's part of where we're at. It's no secret, we're a team that's preparing for the future and also trying to make the playoffs.”

Limiting the rotation to nine guys wasn't going to make any difference on this night. The reason Hoiberg is always scrambling for answers is none of the Bulls' young guys have played with any sort of consistency, beyond maybe backup center Cristiano Felicio.

On Friday, Hoiberg made a couple of substitutions in the opening four minutes — Michael Carter-Williams replaced Jerian Grant and Joffrey Lauvergne checked in for Bobby Portis. Hoiberg said after the game he decided to send Carter-Williams in to guard Houston star James Harden because Jimmy Butler picked up an early foul.

Changing the rotation frequently doesn't seem to be helping the Bulls improve, but if a few of the young guys would deliver positive results consistently, Hoiberg wouldn't feel the need to shuffle the lineup.

“We are playing a lot of guys,” Butler said. “Night in and night out, you don't know what it's going to come down to or who's going to play what minutes with what lineup. I think that's hard. But we've just got to keep playing and no matter what your role is, on any given night, you've got to be a star within that role. It's tough, but everybody's got to be ready.”

Wade returned after missing two games with a thigh injury and looked good. He hit his first 6 shots and scored 18 points in the first half. As is often the case, the Bulls couldn't find much balance. After Wade's 18 and Butler's 10, Paul Zipser was the Bulls' third-leading scorer in the first half with 5 points.

If anyone stood out among the younger players, it was probably point guard Cameron Payne, who scored 11 points in 16 minutes, though most of them came after the outcome was decided.

Things could get even for the Bulls quickly with one of their toughest weeks of the season ahead. They play road games in Boston and Charlotte on Sunday and Monday, followed by dates with Memphis, Washington and Utah.

“We're a team. We win together, we lose together, no matter who coach puts out there on the floor,” Wade said. “He's trying to figure it out. It's tough for him as well, making a move at the deadline and trying to figure out guys, who to play. We've got to take some lumps. It's part of the youth movement.”

• Get the latest Bulls news via Twitter by following @McGrawDHBulls.

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