A spectacular performance helped the Houston Rockets end their longest skid of the season despite playing without Dwight Howard.
With Howard likely out again, Houston might need another big offensive night as the club vies for its 10th straight home win Thursday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Rockets (45-22) dropped each game of a difficult trip that included visits to Oklahoma City, Chicago and Miami. Sunday’s 113-104 loss to the Heat was particularly biting considering Houston was outscored 15-2 over the final 4:26.
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Facing Utah – which owns the West’s worst record – was the perfect antidote in a 124-86 home victory on Monday. The 38-point margin was the Rockets’ most lopsided win of the season, and they also set season highs with 58.2 percent shooting and 30 fast-break points.
"We’ve been playing well and we’re confident in each other and how we’ve been playing," said James Harden, who scored 15 points in 27 minutes after playing 43-plus minutes in three of the previous four contests. "The last three games have been a slip up, but overall I think we’re in a good place."
Houston, which trails the Clippers for third place in the conference by 3 1/2 games, had averaged 96.3 points on 42.1 percent shooting with 17.3 assists during its three-game slide. The Rockets were credited with 31 assists against the Jazz.
Terrence Jones scored 30 on 11-of-15 shooting to lead six players with at least 12 points, including Omer Asik, who had 12 and 11 rebounds while starting in place of Howard. Howard had been the team’s lone player to start every game before being sidelined by a mild strain to his left ankle. According to the team’s Twitter feed, coach Kevin McHale doesn’t expect Howard to play Thursday when the Rockets aim for their longest home winning streak since taking 12 straight from Jan. 31-March 8, 2009.
Houston held Utah to just 34 points in the paint without Howard. Limiting the Timberwolves will likely prove to be a bigger challenge with Minnesota tallying 50 or more in the paint in four of six.
The Timberwolves (34-32) nearly put an end to their already-slim playoff hopes by squandering a 22-point first-half lead Wednesday in Dallas, but they eventually claimed a 123-22 victory in overtime. Kevin Love scored 35, including the winning basket on a jump hook with 17 seconds left.
Ricky Rubio also had 22 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds for his third career triple-double for Minnesota, which is 5 1/2 games behind Dallas for the West’s final playoff spot with 16 games remaining.
"It was a big game against a tough team who is fighting for the playoffs, too," Rubio said. "We want to try to catch up to them."
Houston could be primed for another excellent shooting performance. Even in the Timberwolves’ last five wins, opponents are shooting 48.5 percent and their 44.5 percent field-goal defense in victories this season is the worst in the NBA.
The Rockets have won four of the last five meetings and were 28 of 58 from 3-point range while taking the first two matchups this season. Love totaled 58 points in those contests and has scored 25 or more in six of his last seven games versus Houston.