The Houston Rockets have one game left against a team bound for the NBA draft lottery.
The Rockets continue their pursuit of a Southwest Division title as they look to complete a two-game sweep of a trip to northern California on Friday night against the Golden State Warriors.
Houston (51-28) opened this trip with a 115-98 victory at Sacramento on Thursday to move one-half game ahead of San Antonio for the lead in the Southwest and extend its winning streak to three games.
The tiebreaker between the Rockets and Spurs is not known yet. They split their season series and both clubs’ division records—the next tiebreaker— have yet to be determined.
With division games against New Orleans and Dallas remaining, Houston knows it can’t afford to slip up against Golden State (28-50). The Rockets have won five straight against the Warriors, including three games this season.
They have done it by taking advantage of the worst defensive club in the league, with Golden State allowing an NBA-high 112.5 points per game. Houston has scored 120.0 points per game against the Warriors this season for their highest average against any opponent in 2008-09.
The Rockets also realize that just because they are playing a losing team, they can’t overlook anyone. They trailed by five points at halftime Thursday versus the NBA-worst Kings before turning it around.
“There is a tendency to want to put a team like that away in the first five minutes,” Houston forward Shane Battier said. “They are pros too. They played loose, made shots, and put pressure on us in that first half. We wanted to play hard and wear them down in the second half and that’s what we were able to do.”
“We started playing solid ball in the third quarter and began playing off Yao,” said Artest, who finished with a game-high 26 points. “We got the ball into Yao and he was finding the open man. In the third quarter it happened to be me a lot.”
Golden State had a three-game winning streak snapped with a 105-97 loss to Minnesota on Wednesday. The high-scoring Warriors were held to 36 points in the second half, and failed to reach 100 for only the second time in 16 games.
“It was pretty ugly,” Golden State guard C.J. Watson said. “We stopped doing pretty much everything we wanted to do, moving the ball, playing defense, rebounding. Even running on the fastbreak, we stopped doing (that) in the third quarter.”
Warriors guard Monta Ellis missed his third straight game with a sore ankle. The injury-plagued club has dressed the NBA-minimum eight players in each of the last three games.
Golden State coach Don Nelson didn’t want to make excuses for Wednesday’s loss to the lowly Timberwolves.
“They just basically outplayed us all game long,” Nelson said. “When they were missing shots, we were in the game … but once they started making those same shots that were open before, they just put us away.”