HOUSTON -- Despite the offensive limitations brought on by injury woes, the Chicago Bulls remain a willfully mighty defensive force capable of stifling the most efficient offenses in the NBA.
The fast-paced Houston Rockets never lost touch with that truth Wednesday, resisting every inclination to slug it out in the half-court during their 109-94 victory over the Bulls on Wednesday night at Toyota Center.
Rockets center Dwight Howard narrowly missed posting his seventh consecutive double-double, but his scoring efficiency led a balanced offensive attack that relied on pace and an avalanche of post production.
Howard scored 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting and added nine rebounds as Houston placed four starters in double figures. Forward Chandler Parsons and guard James Harden chipped in 19 points apiece as the Rockets (17-9) produced 66 points.
"Pace was really important for us tonight," Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. "We wanted to make sure we tried to get the ball up and down and put some pressure on their defense before they get set. If you constantly go against their set defense, it is just too hard."
Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, a product of nearby Tomball High School, led Chicago with 20 points, while forwards Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer scored 18 and 17 points, respectively. Chicago, fifth in the league in defensive rating, fell to 1-6 against Western Conference teams.
The Houston reserves responsible for coughing up momentum in the second quarter with negligent defense helped provide the Rockets their largest lead after halftime. Houston capped the third quarter with a 15-1 run after Chicago (9-15) cut the deficit to 68-65 on a Deng layup with 5:24 left.
"It was a tough night," Boozer said. "We felt we got close but then kept our distance, and we just couldn't get enough stops."
Houston forward Omri Casspi began the spurt with a 3-pointer before adding four free throws around a hard drive to the basket by swingman Francisco Garcia. When center Greg Smith threw down a dunk following an offensive rebound, the Rockets led 83-66 with 35.8 seconds left in the third.
McHale kept at least one starter with his reserves during that span, playing Howard until the 1:26 mark.
"With the guys we have on our team, any lineup would work," Howard said. "We can go big, we can go small. We can go with our 3-point shooting lineup. We've got the ability to adapt to any situation, and we're getting better as the season goes."
Houston took a 24-14 lead on Parsons' 3-pointer at the 1:36 mark of the first quarter, but Chicago opened the second with a series of rim attacks against Houston reserves. Bulls forward Taj Gibson slammed home a put-back that cut the deficit to 26-24 at the 9:22 mark before guard Patrick Beverley rebuilt the Rockets' lead with eight consecutive points.
As their starters trickled back into the game, the Rockets reclaimed control. Harden and Howard thrived in the pick-and-roll before Harden sank two free throws that restored the double-digit lead at 52-41. Beverley closed the half with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer, pushing the Rockets' advantage to 57-46 at intermission, momentum they carried into the third.
"We didn't take anything away, so they hurt us in the paint and they hurt us with the 3 and they shot 53 percent," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "We have to straighten it out."
NOTES: Bulls G Kirk Hinrich (back) missed his third consecutive game. ... Given its backcourt injuries, Chicago is increasingly reliant upon G D.J. Augustin, who finished with eight points and nine assists Wednesday in his fourth appearance with the Bulls. "I think he has a pretty good understanding of what we're trying to do," Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau said. "He's learning his teammates, plays with a good pace, and I think his experience overall, the fact that he's started before, I think he's comfortable." ... Rockets G Jeremy Lin (back) missed his second consecutive game. ... Houston is third in the NBA in home defensive efficiency yet 29th on the road, a disparity Rockets coach Kevin McHale links to woeful defensive rebounding. Before outrebounding the Bulls 37-33, the Rockets ranked 22nd in the league, grabbing 73.5 percent of available defensive boards. "We've got to get better at defensive rebounding," McHale said. "We've defended OK. ... We just haven't rebounded the ball cleanly enough. A put-back hurts us."