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Pacesetting Rockets host skidding Bulls

HOUSTON -- One of the misconceptions attached to the Houston Rockets is that their high-efficiency, fast-paced offense will be hamstrung in the postseason when there's a premium on possessions.

The Rockets (60-14), set to host the Chicago Bulls on Tuesday night at Toyota Center, lead the NBA in offensive rating at 113.1 points per 100 possessions but are just 25th in pace since the All-Star break at 98.4 possessions per 48 minutes. They are 16-1 since the season resumed.

Houston operates in contrast to the idea that high-scoring offenses require a hastened pace to post those elevated outputs. The Rockets have relied on the isolation brilliance of James Harden and Chris Paul, plus their volume 3-point shooting, to overwhelm opposing defenses.

That the Rockets continue to score with breathtaking efficiency without mashing the throttle is a testament to their talent and execution, although they can hurry when the need arises.

"That's where stats go into a ditch," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "They only measure what it measures and I think we run at opportunities. I think when there's time we do it.

"I think we're really good at (scoring), so it's not the pace that has to produce a great shot. We have the iso guys and we get mismatches and they can manipulate the offense to where they get a great shot.

"So that's why stats, you can't go by that. I know everybody does because then you'd have to take an hour to explain it (otherwise). Just to have pace for pace sake doesn't make any sense."

Even when the offense isn't clicking on all cylinders, the Rockets have more than enough weaponry to outpace the opposition.

Harden, the league leader by a wide margin with 249 3-pointers, is shooting just 25.7 percent from behind the arc in eight games since he returned from a one-game injury hiatus on March 11 in Dallas. The Rockets, riding a nine-game win streak, own a 110.7 offensive rating during that stretch, good enough for 10th in the league.

When the Rockets need to hurry, they can afford to do so judiciously. When their MVP candidate labors with his perimeter shooting, the Rockets can get by when he opts to facilitate.

"Get guys confidence and get guys going," Harden said of his 15 assists on Sunday in a 118-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks. "(Got) a lot of guys easy baskets. I didn't shoot the ball well, but who cares?"

The Bulls (24-49) have lost five consecutive games and are 4-12 since the All-Star break. Like the Hawks and the Phoenix Suns, the Rockets' opponent on Friday, Chicago doesn't have much incentive to win games down the stretch given its position in the Eastern Conference standings and the possibility of landing an impact prospect high in the lottery of the upcoming draft.

Relatedly, the Bulls will be without a handful of regulars on Tuesday, with Zach LaVine (knee), Kris Dunn (toe), Antonio Blakeney (wrist) and Paul Zipser (undisclosed) expected to be unavailable.

Rookie forward Lauri Markkanen (back) and guard Denzel Valentine (knee) will be game-time decisions, although Valentine did not practice Monday and so he's likely to sit as well.
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