Harden’s Rockets have lost three straight entering Saturday night’s home matchup against a winless Pistons team off to its worst start in 33 years.
The star shooting guard had been with Houston for four days when he had 37 points and 12 assists in his debut, a 105-96 victory at Detroit on Oct. 31.
Harden followed that performance with a 45-point effort in a 109-102 win in Atlanta two days later, but he’s averaging 19.0 points on 29.8 percent shooting during the losing streak.
Harden has faced some tough defenders in his last two games, making 5 of 15 shots for a season-low 15 points while primarily facing Denver’s Andre Iguodala in a 93-87 loss Wednesday. He was guarded mostly by Tony Allen and missed 14 of 18 field-goal attempts in Friday’s 93-85 defeat at Memphis.
Now Harden will get a second matchup with Detroit veteran Tayshaun Prince who was quick to give the Rockets guard credit for making 14 of 25 shots in the opener.
“We thought he would have had a tougher time as far as figuring out their offense, but they only stuck to a couple plays the entire game, which helped him out and kept him in a good rhythm,” Prince said. “We know what type of player James Harden is.”
Although Harden has been getting in more practice with the Rockets, their offense has regressed with an average of 85.7 points during the slide.
Houston (2-3) shot 40.8 percent and was outscored 21-5 in fast-break points Friday.
“We think we are just not running,” point guard Jeremy Lin said. “We are not running with urgency and speed. Some of it is on me, too, not getting back (when opponents) do run the ball. We just need to make a conscious effort as a team of getting everybody up the floor.”
Coach Kevin McHale won’t be around to help that push. He’s taken a leave of absence due to a family matter and there is no timetable for his return. Assistant Kelvin Sampson will be in charge while McHale is out.
Detroit (0-6) fell 105-94 at Oklahoma City on Friday. The Pistons, who will finish a six-game trip, are enduring their worst start since the 1979-80 team began 0-7.
There may be reason for optimism, however, since first-round pick Andre Drummond came alive with 22 points and eight rebounds against the Thunder. Drummond totaled 19 points in his first five games and only played 12 minutes in the opener versus the Rockets.
On Friday, the power forward proved to be formidable up front along with third-year center Greg Monroe who had 14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three blocks.
“When you have two guys like that, you have two big men guarding us and you know how they get mixed up sometimes with picks and stuff like that,” Monroe said. “I was able to find him a couple of times with them mixed up and got a couple easy buckets.”
Drummond, however, wasn’t as big a factor on the defensive end. The Pistons allowed the Thunder to shoot 53.5 percent, a season high for an opponent.
“We’ve just got to kind of put it all together and keep building,” coach Lawrence Frank said.
Houston has won four straight and seven of the last eight meetings with Detroit.