Rockets-Knicks Preview

While they’ve struggled defensively for most of the season, the

Houston Rockets haven’t been as productive on the offensive end

during their recent funk.

Considering the way former Knick Jeremy Lin has been playing,

the visiting Rockets might not need James Harden to turn things

around Thursday night when they seek their 16th win in 17 games

against New York.

Since averaging 109.4 points on 49.9-percent shooting during a

4-1 start, Houston (5-4) has scored 104.8 per game and shot 43.0

percent while dropping three of its last four – a stretch that

includes three overtime periods.

It certainly hasn’t helped that the Rockets have allowed an

average of 111.8 points over their last six games.

With Harden out because of a bruised foot, Lin stepped up with

season highs of 34 points and 12 assists in Wednesday’s 123-117

overtime loss at Philadelphia.

The Rockets were hurting without Harden – a top-five scorer at

24.9 points per game – when they missed 10 straight shots from late

in regulation into overtime before Dwight Howard’s three-point play

tied it with 2:21 left.

Harden, whose foot has bothered him all season, will likely be a

game-time decision Thursday. The high-scoring guard totaled 61

points to help the Rockets win both meetings with the Knicks (3-4)

last season by a combined 41 points.

If Harden is unable to go, Lin figures to get another start

after hitting a career-high nine 3-pointers on 15 attempts.

“It was my worst defensive game of the season,” Lin said after

Philadelphia’s starting backcourt combined for 54 points. “Tomorrow

has to be my best defensive game of the season.”

During the 2011-12 season, “Linsanity” became an instant

sensation when he knocked down several big shots and averaged 18.2

points in 25 starts for the Knicks. In his last two games, Lin has

recaptured some of that magic by scoring 65 on 20-of-36 shooting,

though he’s also turned the ball over 13 times.

This will be his second return to New York after he finished

with 22 points and nine assists in Houston’s 109-96 win Dec. 17,

2012.

Carmelo Anthony, who missed that contest due to a sprained left

ankle, helped the Knicks bounce back from a 31-point loss to San

Antonio on Sunday with a team-high 25 points in Wednesday’s 95-91

win at Atlanta.

“Oh, man, it was a great way to kind of get back on track,”

Anthony said after shooting just 9-of-25 from the field. “Any time

you can win on the road, that’s always a big win.”

Although Anthony has a career-low 41.3 shooting percentage this

season, he’s averaging 34.8 points on 47.9 percent shooting in his

last seven games against the Rockets.

The Knicks are hoping to avoid their fourth straight loss at

home, where they haven’t won since beating Milwaukee in the season

opener. They’ve been outscored by an average of 15.0 points during

the home skid while allowing 110.3 points per game.

With Tyson Chandler out due to a non-displaced fracture of his

right fibula, the Knicks could have their hands full with Howard.

The star center, who ranks second in the NBA with 14.9 rebounds per

game, has 41 points and 39 rebounds in his last two.

The Rockets have won eight of their last nine games at Madison

Square Garden.