NBA schedule 2014: Bulls charged with defusing Rockets

Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the hottest teams in the NBA meet on Thursday at the United Center.

Thursday's slate of games in the NBA features a matchup between the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls, two of the best teams in the month of March. How will they fare in the Windy City? Let's take a look at what's under the warming trays for Thursday night's three course meal.

Appetizer: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Atlanta Hawks

7:30 p.m. ET (League Pass)

It's the battle of the basketball bloggers in Atlanta on Thursday, hosted by smoothie king Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lucas Nogueira's hair. The Bucks are one of the worst teams in the NBA, but are easy to root for considering their dearth of young, developing talent and passionate fanbase.

Giannis "Sunshine" Antetokounmpo

Atlanta, meanwhile, is clawing tooth-and-nail to hang on to the last spot on the Eastern Conference playoffs, just three games ahead of the New York Knicks. While the Hawks move the ball well on offense, they sorely miss injured center Al Horford on both ends of the floor. Atlanta is at home, where they are 17-11 on the season so look for them to hand the Bucks yet another loss.

Main Course: Houston Rockets vs. Chicago Bulls

7 p.m. ET (TNT)

With just 18 games left on their schedule, the Houston Rockets appear to be ramping up for their postseason run in the Western Conference. The Rockets are 9-2 since the All-Star break and only dropped their most recent game to the Oklahoma City Thunder after a 42-point effort from Kevin Durant and an agitated Russell Westbrook shut them down.

Houston has been on a rampage lately, racking up wins over Portland, Indiana, Miami and Phoenix all within the last month. James Harden continues to be unstoppable on the offensive end, posting averages of 29.2 points, 7.1 assists and 5.1 rebounds per-game over the last 10 games. Chicago will need to rely heavily on their strong defensive scheme to stop the offensive juggernaut, particularly on the fast break.

The Bulls are ranked No. 8 in the NBA in opponent fast-break points per-game, and coupled with their balanced offensive attack, should be a handful for Houston. Despite a huge overtime win against Miami on Sunday, Chicago has dropped vital games to top-ranked teams recently, including San Antonio, Memphis and Brooklyn. Thursday night's game at the United Center gives them a chance to redeem themselves and reward Joakim Noah who has been playing out of his mind all March for his efforts on both ends of the court.

Dessert: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

9:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

The Thunder are riding high after an emotion-filled win, 106-98, against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday. Oklahoma City have struggled since Russell Westbrook returned on Feb. 20, going just 4-5 in that span after starting the year 43-12. Westbrook has been careless with the ball at times, racking up a per-game average of five turnovers in the last three games, many of them against subpar opponents. When these two teams met on Mar. 9, the Thunder guard had eight turnovers in a loss, 114-110.

For Los Angeles, the name of the game is effort. The Lakers have had some time off, and in that span Kobe Bryant has been ruled out for the rest of the season, fired shots at the Buss family and even produced murmurs that he wants coach Mike D'Antoni gone next season. L.A. is still trotting out their ragtag lineup (also, Pau Gasol) that includes Wesley Johnson starting at power forward. It's going to be hard for the purple and gold to get a win in Oklahoma.

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