Rockets-Raptors Preview

After getting back to .500, the Houston Rockets are hoping to

bring a more consistent effort going forward.

So, too, are the Toronto Raptors, who are coming off their first

win in December.

Seeking a season best-tying third consecutive victory, Houston –

mired in its longest road losing streak in 11 seasons – tries to

avoid a ninth defeat in 10 games at Toronto on Sunday.

Two nights after pulling out a 99-93 victory over Washington,

the Rockets (11-11) beat Boston 101-89 on Friday to split a

four-game homestand. James Harden shot 6 of 17 but finished with a

game-high 21 points while Greg Smith scored 20 off the bench for

Houston, which outscored the Celtics by 14 in the second half.

“We have stages where we show pretty good signs of a very good

team and then we have signs where we show our youth,” said Harden,

averaging 30.0 points over his last four games. “We just gotta

continue to stick with it for all four quarters. … The more we

play as a team and build our chemistry up, the harder it’s gonna be

to guard us.”

Houston now looks for its momentum to carry over on the road,

where it’s allowed an average of 111.2 points during a six-game

skid – its longest since losing eight in a row in 2001.

The Rockets have had a rough go at it in Toronto (5-19),

dropping five straight there by an average of 15.0 points. Things,

though, could be different this time around thanks to Harden and

Jeremy Lin.

The duo combined for 40 points and 22 assists as Houston cruised

to a 117-101 home win over the Raptors on Nov. 27, overcoming 21

points from Andrea Bargnani and holding former point guard Kyle

Lowry in check.

While Bargnani (right elbow) and Lowry (right shoulder) both

remain sidelined, Toronto snapped a season worst-tying six-game

slide Friday, routing Dallas 95-74. Linas Kleiza returned from a

two-game absence due to a sore right knee to post 20 points for the

Raptors, who had 26 points off 17 turnovers and limited the

Mavericks to 39.1 percent shooting.

“Our guys did a good job as a whole,” said coach Dwane Casey,

whose team entered Friday having dropped 12 of 13. “We have spent

the last couple of days getting back to basics. That’s the only

thing you can do when you are knocked down.

“Everyone that steps on that floor has to be defensive minded.

The defensive effort has to be consistent if you want to stay on

the floor.”

After giving up 94.0 points per game in 2011-12 to rank ninth in

the NBA, Toronto is yielding 101.4 this season – one of the

league’s worst marks

“We’re here to win, to lose it got old,” Kleiza said. “We’ve got

to put more effort into it. To get back to fundamentals, our

defense was great last year. We’ve kind of got to go back to

that.”

In addition to trying to slow down Harden and Lin, the Raptors,

who haven’t put together back-to-back wins since April, could have

their hands full with Smith.

The second-year center is starting to see consistent minutes and

has scored in double figures three times in seven games this month

– including two 20-point efforts.

“Unbelievable, in big games he steps up,” Harden said of Smith.

“He’s learning. … the more playing time he gets, he’s gonna get

better.”

Houston is 5-0 when Smith scores at least eight points.