The Houston Rockets have pulled off back-to-back victories over the teams that reached the Western Conference finals last season and are in search of some consistency with a matchup looming against one of the NBA's top squads.
Houston (20-11), which has gone 7-6 in December, has bounced back from its worst loss of the season with three wins in four games since a 114-81 defeat at Indiana on Dec. 20.
The Rockets' most recent performances may prove they're headed in the right direction. They won 111-98 at San Antonio on Wednesday before a 100-92 home victory over Memphis a day later.
Building on those victories is key before facing the Thunder on Sunday. Oklahoma City is tied with Portland for the league's best record, but the team will be without Russell Westbrook for an extended period following arthroscopic knee surgery.
The Rockets could use another productive effort from Harden, who has totaled 55 points over the past two games after sitting out the previous two with a sprained right ankle.
The All-Star guard, however, struggled from the field against the Grizzlies, going 2 for 9. He still finished with 27 points by sinking a career-best 22 of his 25 attempts from the line, tying the team record for free throws made set by Sleepy Floyd in 1991.
"Just being aggressive, being aggressive," Harden said of getting to the stripe. "I couldn't make a shot. I just tried to get to the rim. We were kind of stagnant through the middle of the game, especially the third quarter, so I just wanted to get in attack mode."
Harden has done plenty of that against the Pelicans (13-14), averaging 29.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting over the past four matchups.
He had 31 points and seven assists to power a 104-92 win at Toyota Center on Jan. 2, while the Rockets extended their home winning streak in the series to four games.
Dwight Howard may be thrilled to face New Orleans after averaging 23.2 points over his last nine matchups. He's coming off a season-low two points Thursday, when he was plagued by foul trouble and a stiff back.
The Pelicans are looking for a three-game winning streak of their own after beating Denver 105-89 on Friday on the heels of ending a four-game slide Monday with a 113-100 victory at Sacramento.
New Orleans has made 19 of 41 3-point attempts over its last two games and has spread the ball around with 28 assists in each contest.
Tyreke Evans has been a big part of the Pelicans' recent success, averaging 21.7 points and 9.3 assists in the last three games. After spending his first four seasons as a key starter for Sacramento, Evans is settling into his role off the bench.
"It's important," said Evans, who is averaging 12.8 points in his first season with New Orleans. "When we come in like that and play together, find each other, move the ball ... I think that's when we're at our best."
Anthony Davis continues to give the Pelicans a strong presence in the paint, averaging 20.8 points and 9.8 rebounds in four games after missing seven with a broken left hand.
He wasn't nearly that effective in four meetings with the Rockets last season, mustering 8.0 points per game and 5.3 boards.