Rockets look to pile up points vs. Pistons

Following a slow start, the Houston Rockets are piling up the points and the victories once again.

In the first game of an unusual back-to-back against a non-conference opponent, the Rockets held off the Detroit Pistons 126-124 in Houston on Wednesday.

The rematch will be held at Detroit’s Little Caesars Arena on Friday.

NBA teams play non-conference teams just twice a season and this season series will be completed in a span of three nights. The first one was a thriller, with reigning Most Valuable Player James Harden pouring in a season-high 43 points and Pistons star Blake Griffin firing in 37 points, including five fourth-quarter 3-pointers.

Since Mike D’Antoni took over as head coach in 2016-17, Houston is 52-1 when scoring 120 or more points. During the Rockets’ current five-game winning streak, they are averaging 117.8 ppg after failing to hit the 100-point mark the previous four games.

“I feel like with wins like that, we get more together, we stick together. With grinds like that, you start trusting more in your teammates,” said center Clint Capela, who had a season-high 27 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. “With wins like that, we enjoy (those) moments even more.”

The Pistons trailed by 10 points entering the fourth quarter and scored 41 points to keep the pressure on the home team.

“We had the game about five times in our hand, and you know we kind of try to give it away,” D’Antoni said. “You’ve got to give them credit, Griffin makes his shots, made some hard shots, but at the same time we had time to put it away a few times and we just (made silly fouls) or just didn’t play.”

The Pistons were frustrated by the way the game was called.

Harden was awarded 19 free throws and made them all. Detroit center Andre Drummond played just 28 minutes due to foul issues and Griffin was called for a bizarre offensive foul in the final minute after a Rockets player ran into him when he had the ball.

Drummond anticipates the outcome will be different on Friday if he plays longer minutes.

“If I was on the floor for another 10-15 minutes, the game would’ve been a different story,” he said. “I got in (foul) trouble early, and some tough foul calls underneath (the basket) and I had to sit down for a while. When I came back in, I tried to give it my best effort, and put us in a good position to win, but it wasn’t enough to get us over the hump. I know what I need to do for next time, to get ourselves ready for Friday.”

Griffin is averaging 29.3 points per game, 11.7 rebounds per game and 4.0 assists over the past three games.

“We just played with the right energy,” he said. “It’s tough that they got to the free throw line so much. I haven’t seen the stats and I thought our guards did a really good job for what you can do, given how the game went and unfolded. I just thought we played with good energy, and offensively, we finally hit some shots.”