The Houston Rockets were written off early after starting the season terribly, but they’re now making a strong push for the playoffs.
The Utah Jazz’s postseason hopes appeared to be fading just a week ago, but the club has put that rough stretch behind it and seems to be finding its stride.
In a matchup of teams battling for the final Western Conference playoff spot, the Rockets look to win for the 11th time in 14 games Sunday night when they host the Jazz, who are seeking their third straight victory.
Houston (36-34) opened the season by dropping 10 of 13 and lost All-Star center Yao Ming(notes) for the year in the first month. The Rockets, though, have battled back to pull within one-half game of ninth-place Utah (36-33), which sits just behind eighth-place Memphis.
The Rockets have been especially good defensively of late during their 10-3 surge, allowing 82.7 points during a three-game winning streak - 21.0 fewer than their season average.
Houston earned one of its most impressive victories of the season Friday, allowing its lowest point total of 2010-11 in a 93-77 over Boston. Kevin Martin(notes) had a team-high 25 points while Kyle Lowry(notes) scored 20 and rookie Patrick Patterson(notes) - making his third straight start for the injured Luis Scola(notes) - added 18 points and a career-high 12 rebounds.
“We were just terrific,” coach Rick Adelman said. “That was about as good as we can play at both ends of the court.”
The Rockets are 19-1 when limiting opponents to 96 or fewer points, but they may have trouble holding Utah to that mark.
The Jazz have reached 100 points in nine of 10 games and totaled 231 in winning their last two. Utah has won back-to-back games for the first time under coach Ty Corbin after losing 10 of the first 13.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes) said after a 119-104 victory over Minnesota on Wednesday. “We have a lot of changes and right now we’re getting used to each other and we’re getting better and better each game.”
Miles made his second straight start in place of Raja Bell(notes) and scored a career-high 40 points, going 14 of 18 from the field and 6 of 7 from beyond the arc. He hit his first seven shots and had 18 points in the opening quarter and 25 by halftime - four shy of his previous high for an entire game.
“He did a tremendous job of executing the offense,” Corbin said.
Millsap, averaging 16.9 points and 7.8 rebounds, had 27 points and 10 boards in a 103-99 overtime win at Houston on Jan. 8.
The Rockets won the rematch in Salt Lake City 97-96 on Feb. 2, as Martin completed a three-point play with 6.9 seconds left.