James Harden has elevated his play to help the Houston Rockets scrape together wins in Dwight Howard’s absence. Omri Casspi did the same in place of Rudy Gay for the Sacramento Kings.
Both might need big performances Wednesday night in Houston with their respective teammates likely to sit out again.
Harden scored 12 of his 36 points in the final 4:46 and matched a career high with seven 3-pointers in Monday’s 91-86 home win over New York. Harden scored a season-low six on 1-of-8 shooting in a Nov. 17 loss at Memphis, but has since averaged 30.7 points on 51.0 percent shooting in three games – all of which have been without Howard due to a strained right knee.
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"I just wanted to be aggressive when my teammates look for me to knock down shots and try to make plays," said Harden, who has scored 30.0 points per game in seven contests against the Kings with Houston.
Howard’s 63.2 career field-goal percentage versus Sacramento is his highest against one team, though the Rockets (11-3) list him as questionable for Wednesday. Patrick Beverley is also questionable after missing seven of the last 12 games with a strained left hamstring.
Houston has managed three of its last four victories despite shooting 37.2 percent or worst and it has been outrebounded by an average of 4.7 with Howard sidelined the last three games.
The Rockets’ improved defense is giving them an edge, however. They’re shooting just 42.7 percent in their wins this season after shooting 49.8 percent in victories in 2013-14 – but they’ve also held opponents to 88.1 points per game in their wins. They gave up 100.3 points per game in last season’s victories.
"We got different lineups and different guys playing, but we went out there and found a way," coach Kevin McHale said.
The Kings (9-5) won 99-89 at New Orleans on Tuesday despite being without Gay and point guard Darren Collison. Casspi scored 22 – his most since he had a career-high 24 as a rookie against Phoenix on Jan. 5, 2010 – while starting in place of Gay, who is averaging a career-high 21.1 points. Casspi, who entered the night averaging 7.3 points, was 9 of 14.
"I’m not trying to be someone that I’m not," he said. "We played good offensively. We ran the floor."
Gay injured his Achilles tendon on Nov. 15 against San Antonio but had played in all three games since. Coach Mike Malone, who was ejected Tuesday after arguing with an official at midcourt, said Gay’s injury has bothered him enough that Sacramento will likely rest him for a couple of days before reevaluating him.
DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points, 12 rebounds and five assists and helped limit Anthony Davis to 14 points on a season-worst 4-of-12 shooting. The Kings held New Orleans to 33-for-79 shooting and opponents are averaging 92.3 points over Sacramento’s last four wins.
Ramon Sessions had 15 points and six assists but was 4 of 13 from the floor while starting for Collison, who is averaging career highs of 15.9 points and 7.0 assists but was sidelined by a left quadriceps contusion.
The Rockets have won 11 of the last 15 meetings and 11 of 14 in Houston.