Both teams are chasing the final playoff spot in their conferences as they meet at the Bradley Center.
The Bucks moved one game ahead of Washington for the eighth spot in the East on the strength of a 91-86 win over Miami on Monday night.
“We’re up now. If we win, we put ourselves in a better situation,” Payton said. “If we lose, that’s when you have to scoreboard watch and hope that a team helps us.”
The win closed out a home-and-home set that opened with the Bucks’ 109-87 victory at Milwaukee on Sunday.
The Rockets lost 110-86 at New Jersey on Monday and are a game behind Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the West.
Starting guard Cuttino Mobley, who is scoring 17.9 points per game, was sidelined with a sprained finger.
“I don’t think 11 out of 11 guys who suited up were prepared to play tonight,” Francis said. “The players know who they are who aren’t putting everything into it. If we don’t get that solved, we’re going to be singing the same sad song come three weeks from now.”
The Rockets have missed the postseason each of the previous three seasons, while the Bucks hope to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since reaching the Eastern Conference finals in 2001.
STANDINGS (through March 31): Rockets - 5th place, 17 1/2 GB, Midwest Division. Bucks - 4th place, 11 1/2 GB, Central Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - Francis, 21.6 ppg and 6.2 apg; Yao, 8.2 rpg. Bucks - Payton, 20.6 ppg and 8.4 apg; Anthony Mason and Desmond Mason, 6.5 rpg.
SEASON SERIES: Rockets, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 31; Rockets, 103-80. At Houston, Francis scored 26 points, Mobley had 19 and Yao chipped in 16 for the Rockets, who led by as many as 28 points and played most of the fourth quarter with reserves. Cassell led the Bucks with 22 points.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 13-24 on the road. Bucks - 20-16 at home.
INJURIES: Rockets - C Jason Collier (foot); G Mobley (finger); F Bostjan Nachbar (groin). Bucks - F Jamal Sampson (shoulder).