The Chicago Bulls have been beaten handily by their last three Western Conference opponents, but could be facing the right one to end that slide.
The Bulls will be without Derrick Rose once again on Monday night when they try to defeat the visiting Houston Rockets for the sixth straight time.
Chicago (42-12) has lost by double digits to its last three foes from the West, including Sunday's 92-78 road defeat to conference-leading Oklahoma City. The Bulls shot a season-low 33.0 percent.
"They really just kicked our (butt)," said center Joakim Noah, who went 1 for 8 and finished with five points and six rebounds. "That really hasn't happened to us in a long time so for us to lose like that is bad, we've gotta bounce back."
Rose missed his 10th straight game due to an injured groin that is preventing him from running. Coach Tom Thibodeau did not blame the loss on the absence of the reigning league MVP.
"Derrick's a great player. Obviously, we prefer to have him,'' Thibodeau said. "But we have more than enough. I was more concerned (Sunday) with the mental aspect. I thought we made a lot of mental mistakes.''
Richard Hamilton, the other half of Chicago's starting backcourt, missed his 14th straight game because of a right shoulder contusion but could return Monday.
"I feel good about Rip because Rip's been practicing. He's made very good progress,'' Thibodeau said. "He has no problems with his lower body. He's doing a lot of shooting. The thing is the contact part of it. I just want to make sure from that aspect. But all the lower body injuries he's had, he's completely healthy.''
The Bulls have won the last five meetings against the Rockets (28-25), including a pair of three-point victories last season in which Rose averaged 31.5 points and 9.0 assists while shooting 54.2 percent.
Luis Scola scored 27 points for Houston in each defeat, making 20 of 35 shots over the two games.
While the Bulls are battling the Thunder for the league's best record, the Rockets are merely trying to reach the playoffs. They hold a one-game lead over Utah for the West's eighth and final playoff spot after falling 104-102 in overtime at home to Indiana on Sunday.
Houston blew a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter, then got outrebounded 9-0 in the extra session.
"I think they outhustled us, especially in the start of that overtime,'' Rockets center Marcus Camby said. "They got like three or four possessions before they finally got the bucket. We had opportunities to win, we just didn't do a good job of closing out this game.''
All five Houston starters reached double figures, led by Goran Dragic's 22 points. Dragic is averaging 20.4 points over his last five games, with three of those contests needing overtime.
Dragic continues to start in place of Kyle Lowry, who has missed the last 13 games because of a bacterial infection. Fellow starting guard Kevin Martin has been out 11 straight with a sprained right shoulder.
Chicago fell to 11-5 against the West after Sunday's loss, while Houston dropped to 10-6 against the East.