Pelicans-Rockets Preview

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

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


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