Rockets-Wizards Preview

With MVP candidate James Harden leading the way, the Houston Rockets are officially headed back to the postseason.

The Washington Wizards have a chance to lock up a spot as soon as Sunday.

Houston tries to keep rolling as it visits the Wizards, who are looking to sweep the season series for the first time since 1989.

The Rockets (49-23) clinched their third consecutive postseason berth with their third straight win and sixth in seven games, 120-110 over Minnesota on Friday. Harden had 33 points, eight assists and five steals while Josh Smith scored 16 to go with nine rebounds and 11 assists.

"We’re a team on a mission," said Smith, whose team is in third place in the highly competitive Western Conference. "We’re a team that doesn’t make excuses. We want to be able to come in each and every game and be mentally prepared for the postseason no matter who we play."

The Wizards (41-32) are fifth in the East, and they can secure a postseason berth with a victory over Houston coupled with a Brooklyn defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers. Washington had been outscored by an average of 17.5 points during a four-game losing streak before finally getting on track with Friday’s 110-107 double-overtime victory over Charlotte.

John Wall finished with 32 points after hitting a clutch pull-up jumper to put the Wizards up three with 9.9 seconds to go.

"That’s the reason you want to be a franchise guy," Wall said. "You want to be the leader of a team. I know at times I didn’t get the ball in those situations. … I guess now I’m making them and shooting them with confidence."

Wall will do his best to help contain Harden, who is neck-and-neck with Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook for the scoring title with 27.2 points per contest. Harden is averaging 33.6 over a five-game stretch, and the Rockets are 30-5 when he scores more than 26.

One of those defeats came 104-103 to Washington on Dec. 29 despite 33 points from Harden. Wizards guard Bradley Beal also had a season-high 33 that night, and Paul Pierce scored 21.

Washington’s victory was just its 10th over a 40-game stretch against Houston. The Wizards haven’t won consecutive games over the Rockets since April 6 and Dec. 14, 1990.

Houston center Dwight Howard had 18 points on 8-for-9 shooting Friday in his second game back since missing two months with a knee injury. The Rockets, who visit Toronto on Monday, plan to rest Howard in one of the next two games.

The Rockets shot 20 of 44 from 3-point range against the Timberwolves while recording a season-high 34 assists. They’re averaging 26.8 assists over a six-game stretch, up from their season mark of 22.3.

"That’s what we’ve been doing these past few weeks, just moving the basketball," Harden said. "Making sure everyone touches the basketball. Making sure we get good shots."

The Rockets have already set single-season NBA records for 3-point attempts (2,392) and most games with at least 15 3-pointers made (15).

The Rockets are seeking a fourth consecutive road victory for the first time since opening 6-0 as the visiting team. They are 20-0 against the East when allowing 103 points or fewer compared to 1-6 when they don’t.

Wall is averaging 29.5 points over a four-game stretch at home, where the Wizards have won six of seven.