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.
Before visiting Oklahoma City, James Harden and the Rockets will
try to avoid overlooking New Orleans and beat the Pelicans for a
fifth straight time at home Saturday.
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
“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
Harden has done plenty of that against the Pelicans (13-14),
averaging 29.0 points on 50.0 percent shooting over the past four
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
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
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