Rockets rolling, Knicks stumbling into Saturday matchup (Dec 31, 2016)

BY AP • December 31, 2016

HOUSTON -- With madness breaking out all around them in the second quarter on Friday night, the Houston Rockets did what they have done throughout this runaway month of December, particularly at Toyota Center: They steadied the ship and kept on rolling offensively.

The Rockets (25-9) improved to 14-2 this month and 8-1 at home with a 140-116 victory over the short-handed Los Angeles Clippers, racking up a season-high point total while dismantling the Clippers in the paint (56 points), at the line (36 of 43 free throws) and from behind the 3-point arc (14 treys).

Houston is blistering opponents at home this month, averaging 121.9 points with a 17.8 point differential. The Rockets are shooting 49 percent from the floor, including 38.1 percent on 3-pointers, at Toyota Center in December while also hitting 77.1 percent from the line on 27.2 free throw attempts per game.

Their offense has been exceptional since guard Patrick Beverley returned from an 11-game injury hiatus, but the string of home performances this month has been otherworldly, so much so that coach Mike D'Antoni could nitpick at the scoring barrage that unfolded Friday night.

"We did score 140 points and I don't think we shot that well," D'Antoni said. "So it was OK."

Houston will host the New York Knicks (16-16) on New Year's Eve, marking the Rockets' first back-to-back home games since Feb. 19-20, 2012. The Rockets will host another back-to-back at Toyota Center later this season when the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls pay visits on Feb. 2-3.

The Rockets received a surprising boost from second-year forward Montrezl Harrell, who continues to masquerade as an undersized center with starter Clint Capela sidelined with a broken left leg. Harrell had a career-high 29 points off the bench, including 13 in the fourth quarter. His previous best was 17.

"When you've got guys on the floor who shoot the ball at a high clip the way we shoot, it makes my job easier," said Harrell, who finished 10 of 14 from the floor. "(Defenders) don't want to pull off that corner 3 or that slot 3 so they stay hugged up and that makes my job easier."

The Knicks fell to 0-2 on their three-game road trip and dropped to 5-11 away from Madison Square Garden with their 104-92 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. They played a second consecutive game without guard Courtney Lee (sore right wrist) and are seeking defensive answers at the wrong time.

New York fell at home to Houston 118-99 on Nov. 2. The Knicks have yet to make the most of center Joakim Noah and his defensive reputation and without Lee, their top perimeter defender, will arrive in Houston vulnerable against a team that is rolling in every way imaginable on the offensive end.

The Knicks have lost six of eight games overall.

"It's the defensive side of the ball. If we stop people, it will be a lot easier to score," Knicks guard Derrick Rose said. "I'm tired of being down 10 quick. When you play that type of game, it affects you offensively.

"It's a lot of elements: effort, once again communication, trusting."

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