NEW ORLEANS — Since Dec. 1, the Houston Rockets won 36 of 50 games, a sustained stretch of excellence fueled by an offense that lately has been more lethal and efficient than Golden State’s.
In routing the Los Angeles Lakers 139-100 on Wednesday night, the high-octane Rockets had their 10th game this season in which they have scored at least 130 points, the most in the franchise’s 46-year history in Houston.
Although the Rockets (47-21) face a far stingier defense Friday night when they take on the Pelicans (27-41) at the Smoothie King Center, expect the scoreboard to morph into beast mode.
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DeMarcus Cousins, however, will not take part in the contest due to left knee soreness and a right rib contusion.
Cousins logged 30 minutes in each of the Pelicans’ last two games before undergoing an examination by team medical staff on Friday morning. The Kentucky product underwent an MRI on his left knee during the exam which produced negative results and he is considered day-to-day.
The Rockets were the first team to play the new-look Pelicans’ frontline of Anthony Davis and Cousins on Feb. 23, and burned New Orleans 129-99 by making 20 of 51 from long range, including 7 of 11 from newly acquired guard Lou Williams.
At the time, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said his goal was for the Rockets to take at least 50 3-pointers per game, adding, “we will live with the results.”
The results have been fairly mind-boggling. The Rockets won 25 of 26 games when they score at least 120 points. Only Golden State has a better offensive efficiency rate per 100 possessions, and that lead has shrunk to two-tenths of a point.
Williams was the offensive catalyst again for the Rockets on Wednesday against the Lakers, scoring a team-high 30 points against his former team. He made his first seven shots.
The Rockets have been playing so well that D’Antoni, mindful of the playoffs, is carefully apportioning the minutes. D’Antoni may hold out Nene against New Orleans and go with the center tandem of Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell.
D’Antoni also is scaling back practice over the last month of the season to keep his players’ legs fresh.
“We try to lighten up a little bit now, try to cut back,” D’Antoni said. “Then, we’ll hit it hard right before the playoffs and get back in the mode when you have to grind it out, hopefully, for a month and a half, two months.
“There’s no handbook what’s right or wrong. I have no idea. Just try to go by feel. Different players respond to different things. We’ll try everything. You throw spaghetti against the wall. Some will stick. We’ll go with it. These guys are good. We’ll just try to not mess them up.”
The Rockets won seven of the last eight meetings with New Orleans. Houston’s most recent 30-point victory came despite Cousins and Davis combining for 56 points and 23 rebounds in the debut of the Twin Towers’ offense.
New Orleans showed some signs of improvement offensively, winning consecutive games against Charlotte and Portland before losing 120-112 on the road to Miami on Wednesday night.
“We were shooting twos and they were making threes,” Davis said. “Three beats two any day of the week.”
The Pelicans got some good Thursday when the NBA rescinded a technical foul against Cousins — which would have been his 19th of the season and subjected to him to another, automatic one-game suspension if he had picked up another.
Cousins was originally called for the technical when he pushed away the arms of Heat center Willie Reed. His 18 technical fouls lead the NBA.
The Pelicans also made a longer-term roster decision by signing guard Jordan Crawford, who had been playing on a 10-day contract, to a two-year deal. Crawford has been a revelation from the perimeter, averaging 14.2 points per game on 51 percent shooting off the bench.