The surging Houston Rockets haven’t skipped a beat since Dwight Howard’s return, extending their lengthy home winning streak in the process.
They’ll put that run to the test as they try to avoid getting swept in the season series by the team directly in front of them in the Western Conference.
Houston goes for a 12th straight home victory and looks to draw even with the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Clippers for third place in the West on Saturday night.
In Howard’s second game back after missing three with a left ankle strain, he finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds in a 120-98 home win over Philadelphia on Thursday.
James Harden led the way with 26 points, 10 boards and 10 assists for his second career triple-double as the Rockets (49-22) won their fifth straight and dealt the 76ers their NBA record-tying 26th consecutive loss.
”We did a great job of coming out tonight and taking care of business,” said Harden, who has averaged 31.3 points while hitting 12 of 23 from 3-point range in his last three games.
Even with Howard missing the first three victories, the Rockets have averaged 118.2 points on 52.0 percent shooting – 41.1 percent from beyond the arc – during the five-game win streak. They’ve also put up 118.0 points per game with roughly those same shooting percentages over their last nine at Toyota Center.
Houston has won by an average of 14.6 points during the home win streak, the franchise’s longest since a 12-game run in 2008-09.
The Rockets will try to keep it going versus a Los Angeles team they’ve struggled against in recent seasons. The Clippers (51-22) have won eight of the past nine meetings, including three victories by an average of 13.3 points this season.
Closing in on a second straight division title, the Clippers are chasing Oklahoma City for the West’s second spot but sit just a game ahead of fourth-place Houston.
In the second game of a five-game trip Thursday, Los Angeles rallied from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to snap a two-game road slide with a 109-103 win over Dallas.
Chris Paul had 31 points after missing all 12 of his shots in a 98-96 loss at New Orleans a night earlier. Blake Griffin finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds, while DeAndre Jordan scored 16 with 15 boards.
”We knew it was going to be a playoff-type game," Paul said. "They’re not just playing for their playoff lives; we’re trying to gear up for the playoffs, too.”
The All-Star point guard had 23 points and a season-high 17 assists in a 137-118 home win over Houston on Nov. 4. Griffin then finished with 23 points and 16 boards, while Howard countered with 23 and 11 in the Clippers’ 101-93 home win Feb. 26.
In the only other meeting at Toyota Center on Nov. 9, Los Angeles outscored Houston 61-39 in the second half en route to a 107-94 victory.
The Rockets’ Patrick Beverley had 19 points in that contest, but he’s likely out for the season after tearing his right meniscus Thursday. He’s expected to be replaced by Jeremy Lin, who has averaged 14.3 points in 25 starts.
Harden has scored 15.0 per game while missing 17 of 19 from 3-point range in the season series.