James Harden’s slow start is now well behind him. The Brooklyn Nets’ early struggles continue to linger.
While Harden’s prolific scoring has fueled the Houston Rockets’ four-game win streak, the reeling Nets try to avoid an eighth straight loss to begin their season in Wednesday night’s visit to the Toyota Center.
Houston (4-3) has fared as Harden has through its first seven games, with the star guard’s 22.2 percent shooting a key factor in the team’s 0-3 start. He’s averaging 38.5 points during the win streak and delivered a second consecutive 40-plus effort with 46 in Saturday’s 109-105 road victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Harden followed a 43-point, 13-assist performance Friday at Sacramento by matching the third-highest point total of his career, which included him going 13 of 14 from the foul line. His final two free throws snapped a 105-all tie with 32.6 seconds left.
After going 3 of 32 from 3-point range during Houston’s skid, Harden is 9 for 20 over his two-game binge. He’s the first Rockets player with back-to-back games of at least 43 points since Moses Malone did so in three straight Feb. 26-March 2, 1982.
"He’s making shots. He’s being aggressive. He’s playing faster," coach Kevin McHale said. "I thought our entire team played like they had cement boots on the first three games. We were just slow. When you watch the film we just looked sickly. We were able to turn the corner and get downhill."
Houston is averaging 113.5 points during the surge after scoring 92 or less in the three losses, two of which Dwight Howard missed. Howard has been hard to stop of late, going 18 of 20 from the field over his last two games and posting 20 points and 20 rebounds Saturday.
The Rockets are getting healthier as well, with forward Terrence Jones and guard Patrick Beverley both expected to be available Wednesday. Jones has missed five straight with an eyelid laceration and Beverley the last two due to a concussion.
Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez also is probable despite leaving Saturday’s 94-86 loss at Milwaukee with soreness in his surgically repaired right foot. The oft-injured center has been the Nets’ one bright spot during an 0-7 start, the franchise’s worst since dropping an NBA-record 18 straight to begin 2009-10.
Lopez is averaging 20.4 points, but the Nets are scoring a league-low 90.4 per game. They’ve been particularly bad from 3-point range, shooting an NBA-worst 23.6 percent. Joe Johnson is 4 of 23 from beyond the arc.
Turnovers have been an issue as well. Brooklyn committed eight in the third quarter and 18 overall Saturday, leading to 24 Milwaukee points.
"Once again, we come out in the third quarter and I don’t know what happened," said Johnson, whose 10.3 scoring average is his worst since 2002-03. "It’s just turnover after turnover and then they keep scoring and we are steadily putting pressure on ourselves to score and make plays, which kind of leads to another turnover."
A matchup with the Rockets hasn’t usually been a remedy for the Nets’ struggles. Houston has won 16 of 17 in the series including eight straight at the Toyota Center, where the Nets haven’t won since March 13, 2006. The Nets are 3-20 in Houston since 1990-91.
The Rockets won both 2014-15 meetings, with Jones compiling 26 points and 12 rebounds in a 102-98 home win Feb. 27.