Facing a Lakers team that has been officially eliminated from the postseason race, the Rockets try to end a three-game losing streak as they visit Staples Center.
Los Angeles, last season’s Western Conference champion, was knocked out of playoff contention for the first time in 11 years with a 125-99 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday.
Houston, meanwhile, is trying to protect its sixth-place spot in the West with seven games left in the regular season. While being chased by Denver and Memphis, and with ninth-place Minnesota playing well lately, the Rockets must turn around their recent struggles to assure themselves of claiming one of the West’s eight playoff spots.
After scoring an average of just 75.5 points in losses to New Orleans and Phoenix, Houston had problems on the other end Tuesday against Golden State. The Rockets had their worst defensive performance of the season, losing 122-117 to the Warriors.
The Rockets are usually steady on defense, holding opponents to 91.2 points per game.
“I was just surprised we brought so little defensively,” Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said. “I’m not really concerned with anybody else. I’m concerned with playing better and playing harder.”
Tracy McGrady had 44 points for the Rockets after scoring a combined 34 on 11-of-41 shooting (26.8 percent) in the previous two games.
Yao Ming added 23 points and 11 rebounds in his second game since missing last Friday’s loss to the Hornets with a sore right calf.
The Lakers, who have lost 12 of 13, played Tuesday without Kobe Bryant, who was resting his injured right leg.
Bryant’s shin bruise forced him to miss a game for the first time since he was activated from the injured list Feb. 13 after sitting out 14 games with a sprained right ankle. His status for Thursday’s game is uncertain.
Los Angeles is 6-9 this season without Bryant.
Lakers coach Frank Hamblen confessed to trying to play everyone so the front office can evaluate the team’s talent to rebuild in the post-Shaquille O’Neal era.
“I think in their minds we were eliminated before tonight,” Hamblen said.
“There’s some guys that aren’t here who, the last five years we were in the finals, so I’d say that’s what the big difference is.”
Caron Butler had 30 points on Tuesday for the Lakers, and is averaging 24.6 in his last five games.