Spurs-Rockets Preview

The Houston Rockets passed their first true test after running roughshod through lesser teams.

Next they’ll see how they stack up against the defending NBA champions.

Houston looks to improve upon its best start in 18 seasons Thursday night when it hosts the San Antonio Spurs.

The Rockets (5-0) are the second team in league history to start with five straight victories by at least 10 points, joining the 1985-86 Denver Nuggets, who did so in six straight wins. Houston reached the Western Conference finals each of the last three times it started 5-0, most recently in 1996-97.

The Rockets’ first four wins came against Philadelphia, Boston, Utah and the Lakers – teams with a combined 3-16 record. Tuesday’s 108-91 victory over previously unbeaten Miami was much more impressive. Houston held the Heat to 41.9 percent shooting after they had shot 49.1 percent through their first three contests.

James Harden had 25 points with 10 assists, coming up one rebound shy of his third career triple-double. He is shooting 38.8 percent from the field but he’s also averaging 12.8 free-throw attempts per game, going 61 of 64 from the charity stripe.

Dwight Howard had 26 points and 10 rebounds.

"We’ve started great," Howard said. "We just want to finish great."

Houston was 17 of 37 from 3-point range with five players hitting at least two, including Trevor Ariza, who was 5 of 8. Ariza is 21 of 35 from deep to kick off his second Rockets stint.

"You’ve got the most dominant big man in the league roaming around the rim so somebody has to take him," said Harden, who is 17 of 31 from 3-point range in his last seven meetings with San Antonio. "And then you have tremendous shooters on the wing. It’s pretty hard to guard."

The Rockets are shooting 44.1 percent from 3-point range and their 14.2 converted 3-pointers per game would be the highest average in NBA history since the 3-pointer was instituted in 1979-80. The 2012-13 New York Knicks hold the single-season record, making 10.9 per game.

Houston is looking to claim its first six-game winning streak in the series since Nov. 8, 1988-April 19, 1989. Tony Parker is averaging 11.0 points on 36.1 percent shooting in his last three matchups after averaging 24.4 points and shooting 53.0 percent in his previous 10. Tim Duncan has also struggled in the last three, scoring 11.7 per game on 43.8 percent from the field.

San Antonio (2-1) has won two games by a combined three points with Wednesday’s 94-92 victory over Atlanta.

"We need to be sharper and execute better," said Manu Ginobili, who scored 12 on 2-of-7 shooting.

Duncan finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds and the Spurs assisted on 25 of their 31 field goals while scoring a season-high 18 fast-break points. San Antonio held Atlanta to 8-for-25 3-point shooting after the Hawks had gone 20 of 42 from deep in two games. The Spurs have held teams to 28.1 percent from long range.

They could be somewhat depleted Thursday as Tiago Splitter reaggravated the calf injury that sidelined him for the first two games. Marco Belinelli left in the first quarter with a strained groin.

Howard is averaging 21.1 points on 61.7 percent shooting with 16.5 rebounds while collecting 10 straight double-doubles against the Spurs.